Strapped for years by strict annual spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act that attempted to curb federal deficits, the U.S. military got major relief this month under the bipartisan budget deal signed by President Donald Trump.
The budget deal adds $165 billion to the Pentagon budget over two years and pushes total military spending to $1.4 trillion through September 2019.
But before the military goes off on a spending spree to buy billions of dollars worth of helicopters, fighter planes, munitions, warships and missile defense technology — and yes, no doubt there will be money allocated for those purposes by the House and Senate appropriations committees — it should first earmark a good portion of those dollars to training and systems compliance.
Specifically, we need to spend money on the U.S. Navy.
We say that because the Navy had a horrific year of accidents in an eight-month span last year in Asia with four incidents that resulted in the deaths of 17 U.S. sailors and millions of dollars in damages to Navy ships.
One of those incidents, the collision of the USS Fitzgerald with a Philippine container ship on the night of June 17 in a Japanese shipping channel, killed seven sailors and a Wisconsin Navy commander faces a possible court martial, according to a recent USA Today-Milwaukee Journal news investigation.
The Navy has attributed the four incidents, including the Fitzgerald collision, largely to human error.
That may turn out to be the case, but those errors extend far beyond the decks of the Fitzgerald and some of the fault has to lie with the Navy itself for its failure to respond to warnings two years ago that the U.S. overseas fleet was at risk from a lack of training and heavy workload, according to the news report.
Among the details in that report:
- In 2015, the Government Accountability Office, warned the Navy of “increasing risk to the fleet from limited training, reduced maintenance and a surge in deployment time by ships like the Fitzgerald that are based overseas.”
- GAO officials said they were told by top Navy officials that they hadn’t even read the report until after the four incidents last year.
- “All three commercial ships (in the Japanese shipping channel) were using an electronic system to broadcast their location, but the Fitzgerald’s crew had not set the equipment to transmit its own location and wasn’t using incoming data to improve its awareness of t
- he ships around them,” according to Navy reports.
- “The number of days at sea for cruisers and destroyers in the 7th Fleet (which includes the Fitzgerald) jumped 40 percent in one year, climbing to 162 days in 2016…”
- “Ships like the 11 in Yokosuta (Japan) are deployed more often, leading to sailor fatigue, reduced maintenance and limited opportunities for training, the GAO report said. U.S.–based ships have regimented schedules for training, but the foreign fleet largely trained as time allowed while ships were underway.”
Those are pretty damning details and paint a picture of a foreign-based U.S. fleet that is seriously in need of better training and better monitoring of warning reports from agencies like the GAO when things are not up to snuff.
The USS Fitzgerald limped into port at a Mississippi shipyard last month for repair work to rip out damage areas that has been contracted at $63 million – but the costs are expected to far exceed that.
Before the House and Senate appropriations committees sign off on the purchase of new military whistles and bells, they would do well to make sure there is enough in the training and systems monitoring budget to keep what we already have afloat and safe.