Homicide charges for US warship collisions are a big mistake

Four officers from USS Fitzgerald and one from USS John S. McCain including both commanding officers will face criminal charges for negligent homicide. As Navy Times notes, this is a very rare step, and now the internet is boiling over with discussions about it.

I think the criminal charges are a big mistake. …Continue reading

Critical review of lessons from US warship collisions

The US Navy’s report on recent collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain fails to see the true shortcomings of seamanship and procedures.

We now have the official report regarding the collisions that led to the deaths of 17 sailors on the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain earlier this year. I have read the report, and some of the conclusions were so puzzling to me that I decided to make a critical review to come up with my own conclusions. I have done this on the basis of the report itself and this article in Defense News.

I have earlier been critical about the US Navy’s procedures and level of competence in the field of navigation and seamanship. The report about USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain only further deepens my distrust in the US Navy’s abilities. The performance of the crews on the two ships was appalling but the conclusions derived by the Department of the Navy are equally poor and raise serious questions about the ability of the Navy to learn from the incidents. …Continue reading

Jamming of phones and GPS during Zapad causes concerns

Did Russia jam GPS signals in Norway and phone services in Latvia and Sweden and during exercise Zapad in September? Apparently there are many indications that they did, and now Secretary-General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg has expressed his concerns about the Russian demonstrations of electronic warfare capabilities.

Ideally, military units have redundant systems so they are able to continue operations despite the application of electronic warfare on the battlefield. This may not always get enough attention during exercises, but at least military units are aware that electronic countermeasures exist, and they have some kind of prepared response to it. Military ships, for example, should be able to navigate safely without GPS.

The civil society is much more vulnerable. For most people cellular phones are crucial in emergency situations, and effective GPS jamming could be dangerous for transportation systems, potentially leading to accidents.

Suspicions are that the Russian GPS jamming in Norway was applied in order to disrupt their own forces during training, whereas the phone jamming in Latvia and Sweden was perhaps a deliberate attempt at disturbing these countries. Regardless, it is dangerous to apply such measures, and it shouldn’t be done without prior notice. The Latvian emergency phone service was shut down for several hours, and although there are no reports of anybody not receiving necessary help during the attack, real people could have suffered as a result.

Worrying initiatives to improve navigational safety in US Navy

The US Navy attempts to improve navigational safety in the wake of a series of accidents involving ships from the Pacific Fleet, reports Geoff Ziezulewicz for Navy Times after obtaining a command message outlining some of the initiatives. The list of revised procedures does give grounds for some worry, though.

It starts off well enough. There will be a revised watch schedule to ensure better human performance:

[S]urface fleet skippers will be required to implement watch schedules and shipboard routines that better sync with circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles.

This is a good idea. In many navies around the world sleep routines are an underestimated factor in performance, and in some places there has developed a culture where a tough schedule is even regarded as a sort of test of manhood (try reading the comments to the article).

But then the list continues with this:

In a nod to old-school seamanship, and regardless of any installed radar capability, Rowden’s message also dictates that maneuvering boards will be used by both the bridge and combat information center for all vessel contacts with an initial closest point of approach of 5,000 yards or less.

No, seriously, who uses maneuvering boards for actual collision Read more

U.S. Navy needs better procedures for driving a ship

Paul Lobo nails it in The Maritime Executive in a piece called Collisions Show That “Navy Way” is the Wrong Course:

In addition, there are far too many personnel on Navy ships, which is not only costly, but can be distracting when cruising at 25 knots. Consider that a modern 1,200-foot commercial container ship operates with only about 20 seafarers aboard, and the ship owners are talking about unmanned ships as we speak. A destroyer like the USS McCain has 281 men and women aboard. I have piloted several carriers and counted as many as 40 people on the bridge while we were entering port, and it makes for a distracting work environment. The Navy culture relies on the use of many assistants. There are advantages to the system, to be sure, but aboard ship, without one individual “running the show,” the potential for confusion and error increases exponentially. Yet, still, the Navy way continues.

We don’t know for sure that poor procedures are the cause of the collisions of USS Fitzgerald or USS McCain. But we do know that poor procedures generally cause accidents, and the U.S. Navy’s procedures for driving a ship are just ridiculous.