New Report Finds Navy Crews Are Undermanned, Overworked, And Lack Training

The hull of the USS Fitzgerald at the Navy’s dry dock facility in Yokosuka, Japan
Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This article by Hope Hodge Seck originally appeared on, the premier source of information for the military and veteran community.

In the wake of two major Navy ship collisions in the Pacific this summer that caused the deaths of 17 sailors, government oversight officials found nearly 40 percent of warfare certifications for Japan-based surface combatants were expired, and scaled-back crews have increased the workload for sailors in the Pacific.

John Pendleton, the Government Accountability Office director for defense force structure and readiness issues, was set to discuss the office's findings Thursday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the causes of the two recent collisions.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.U.S. Navy photo reviewed a copy of his testimony ahead of the hearing. CNN first reported its contents.

The findings, the report suggests, call into question not only the Navy's strategy for operating forward-deployed ships, but its ability to adequately maintain and operate the larger fleet it wants.

The service has called for growth to a 355-ship Navy, up from its current fleet of 277.

"Looking to the future, the Navy has plans to grow its fleet by as much as 30 percent, but it has not yet shown the ability to adequately man, maintain, and operate the current fleet," Pendleton wrote in his prepared testimony.

"These readiness problems need to be addressed and will require the Navy to implement our recommendations -- particularly in the areas of assessing the risks associated with overseas basing, reassessing sailor workload and the factors used to size ship crews, and applying sound planning and sustained management attention to its readiness rebuilding efforts," he wrote.

The GAO found that a lack of scheduled training periods for Pacific-based ship crews contributed to the crews increasingly continuing to operate with expired warfare certifications, including certifications for seamanship.

As of June of this year, the office found, 37 percent of warfare certifications for all cruisers and destroyers homeported in Japan were expired, a fivefold increase since May 2015.

In the last decade, the Navy has doubled the percentage of its ships homeported overseas, with an emphasis on expanding its presence in the Pacific as part of the service's pivot to that part of the world.

However, the GAO found in 2015 that Japan-based cruisers and destroyers lacked dedicated time for training and sustainment in keeping with the Navy's own optimized fleet response plan, and instead practiced training "on the margins" -- whenever time and conditions allow.

Damage to the portside is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.U.S. Navy photo

The more recent report found moreover that the Navy was taking risks by scaling back crew size and piling work onto remaining sailors, who sometimes work more than 100 hours a week while deployed.

The Navy in 2001 began reducing crew size in its "optimal manning" initiative, designed to complement manpower with new technology.

In 2010, the service concluded the initiative was adversely affecting readiness, and phased it out in the years that followed.

But the GAO found crew sizes and personnel costs remained somewhat scaled back, and that crews were further reduced during in-port periods, which increased sailors' workload then.

Investigations continue into the cause of the collisions of the destroyers John S. McCain and Fitzgerald with commercial vessels in two separate incidents in the Pacific this summer.

The McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged tanker east of the Straits of Malacca near Singapore Aug. 21, resulting in the deaths of 10 sailors aboard.

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) moored pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on Aug. 21.DoD photo

On June 17, the Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Japan, killing seven Navy sailors.

Earlier in the year, two other surface ships in the Pacific also experienced mishaps: The cruiser Antietam ran aground outside Yokosuka Naval Base in late January, and the cruiser Lake Champlain collided with a small South Korean fishing vessel in May.

The two deadly collisions within months of each other represent disasters unprecedented in recent years.

Since 2009, there have been only 16 collisions or groundings of any kind involving Navy vessels, and only one other resulted in a fatality: a 2012 incident in which a special operations craft collided with a civilian fishing boat near the Philippines, killing a fisherman.

Two separate Navy reviews of training and operational practices are underway to prevent future disasters, one overseen by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran, and one independent review initiated by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.

Moran and the Navy's director of Surface Warfare, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, are set to testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday alongside Pendleton.

More from

Soldiers deploy concertina wire in a location along the Southwest border of the United States near Hidalgo, Texas. U.S. Army North is deployed to the southwest border under the authority of U.S. Northern Command to support the Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection's mission to secure the border. (U.S. Customs and Border Patrol)

The Defense Department's Inspector General's Office has launched an "evaluation" of the deployment of active-duty and National Guard troops to the southern border, a news release said Tuesday.

"We will examine, among other issues, what they are doing at the border, what training they received, and whether their use complied with applicable law, DoD policy, and operating guidance," said Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general performing the duties of the inspector general, in the release.

Read More Show Less
(DoD photo)

Gold Star family members might finally see an end to the so-called "Widows Tax" thanks to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020.

Read More Show Less
Saudi Arabia Defense Attache Major General Fawaz Al Fawaz and his Embassy staff and other officials arrive to meet with the Saudi students who remain restricted to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola base by their Saudi commanding officer, in Pensacola, Florida, U.S. December 9, 2019.( FBI Jacksonville/Handout via Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 175 Saudi Arabian military aviation students have been grounded as part of a "safety stand-down" after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a U.S. Navy base in Florida, U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
Photo: U.S. Army/Spc. Valencia McNeal

The number of substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct against senior Army officials increased this year, according to an Army Inspector General report recently presented to service leaders and obtained by Task & Purpose.

The document, which lays out broad details of IG investigations undertaken in fiscal year 2019, looks at investigations specific to senior Army officials, which includes "promotable colonels, general officers and senior executives," according to Army spokesman Lt. Col. Emanuel Ortiz.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) carries cold weather equipment as he begins to march across the Icelandic terrain October 19, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Capt. Kylee Ashton)

MONS, Belgium (Reuters) - The United States will send 20,000 troops to Europe next April and May in its biggest military exercises on European soil since the Cold War to underscore Washington's commitment to NATO, a senior allied commander said on Tuesday.

Days after a NATO summit in London at which U.S. President Donald Trump called low-spending European allies "delinquent", U.S. Major General Barre Seguin said the exercises, centered on Germany, will be the largest of their kind in 25 years.

"This really demonstrates transatlantic unity and the U.S. commitment to NATO," Seguin, who oversees allied operations from NATO's military headquarters in Belgium, told Reuters.

Read More Show Less