House And Senate fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill conferees agreed on several Navy surface warfare reforms while making some of the stronger changes into studies.
A provision in the House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) called for ship examinations after October 2019 be conducted on a no notice basis to provide an accurate representation of ships without special preparation. It also said the reports detailing the results of the inspections should be unclassified and available to the public. The Senate authorization bill had similar provisions.
The Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) conducts material inspections of all naval ships at least once every three years when practical and operates acceptance trials for ships.
The House side receded but added an amendment requiring inspections “be conducted with minimal notice provided to the crew of the vessel beginning on January 1, 2020” and the Navy must submit an annual unclassified report on the inspections to the defense committees.
The conference report said the conferees intend for the limited notice to make inspection be “come as you are” without the benefit of a dedicated inspection preparation.
The House also had a provision requiring the Secretary of the Navy limit the time ships can be forward deployed at 10 years and for all ships currently deployed for more than 10 years to return to a U.S. homeport within three years. The Senate had a similar provision and receded with an amendment that restricts the limitation on length of overseas forward deployment to specified types of vessels.
This section of the bill retains a House provision allowing the Secretary of the Navy to waive these requirements for individual ships when he notifies the defense committees.
A House Armed Services staffer in April said more than half of the current forward deployed ships have spent more than 10 years deployed overseas (Defense Daily, April 26).
After the original House NDAA draft emerged with these provisions, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson said the Navy had already decided to change the time for forward deployed ships to about every eight years (Defense Daily, May 3).
Relatedly, the House bill had a section requiring the Secretary of the Navy to designate a single commander responsible for ensuring Navy forces are ready for tasking and deployment, rather than maintaining a separate scheme for Pacific Fleet forces. It also required the service chief to designate a single commander for all Navy shipyards, include those overseas.
The House version recommended the commander of Fleet Forces for the tasking/deployment side and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) for the shipyard role.
The Senate version had similar concerns but limited itself to requiring the Navy Secretary to conduct a comprehensive review of the operational and administrative chains-of-command and functions in the Department of the Navy.
The House receded to the Senate version but the conferees direct the Navy Secretary to review the chains-in-command for Navy shipyards and determine is a single commander should be responsible for all shipyards.
The bill directs the comprehensive review to consider ways to increase visibility of unit-level readiness at senior levels; reduce double-hatting and triple-hatting commanders; clarify the organizations responsible and accountable for training and certification at the unit, group, and fleet level; and simplify reporting requirements applicable to commanding officers.
These measures are aimed at working through some findings in the Navy Secretary's Strategic Readiness Review (SRR), ordered after the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) were damaged in collisions with civilian ships in the Pacific region last year. The SRR cited unclear command relationships as a factor in the incidents.
Any change in responsibility for tasking and deployment would run against the “Inouye Amendment” that has kept the Pacific Fleet readiness generation and engagement separate for years. The final bill is in effect asking the Secretary of the Navy to study the issue before it potentially moves past the concerns named after former Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) who sought to maintain the separation of Pacific Fleet, based in Hawaii.
The bill also decided to go against a House provision requiring the Secretary of the Navy to establish two career paths for surface warfare officers (SWOs) by 2021: ship engineering systems and operations/combat systems. Instead, the conference directed the Government Accountability Office to study the issue and brief the defense committees by next March.
However, it did direct within 180 days of the act becoming law that the Secretary of the Navy require key watchstanders on surface ships maintain a career record of watchstanding hours and specific operational evolutions and also submit a report to the defense committees on the adequacy of individual training for certain watchstations.
The watchstanders who have to log their hours includes officer of the deck, engineering officer of the watch, conning officer or piloting officer and any other specified by the Navy Secretary. The Navy Secretary’s report is directed to include any planned or recommended changes in qualification standards for watchstations like officer of the deck, combat information center watch officer, tactical action officer, engineering officer of the watch, and conning officer or piloting officer.
Reviews of the DDG-62 and DDG-56 incidents revealed numerous watchstanding errors and limited training.