Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Adm. Tom Rowden ordered Ready For Sea Assessments (RFSA) for all surface vessels beginning last week, the Navy said Oct. 18.

The Navy began conducting RFSAs in September, focusing on evaluating “foundational skills necessary to operate surface warships safely” in addition to assessing areas like navigation, propulsion, steering, communications, and damage control. These assessments are meant to evaluate a ship’s readiness and to develop a plan to fix any existing gaps.

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The surface assessments are focusing on ships forward deployed to Japan first, the Navy said. Seven ships had completed the RFSA last week while two others were undergoing assessment. The effort is beginning by focusing on cruisers and destroyers forward deployed to Japan before expanding to other vessels operating in the Western Pacific. The Navy will assess ships in the rest of the service after Western Pacific ships are finished.

Forward deployed Aegis Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers have both experienced mishaps and collisions over the past year, with two destroyer collisions resulting in numerous sailor deaths. Congressional committees have grilled top Navy officials over the problem (Defense Daily, Sept. 7; Sept. 19) while the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer conduct investigations and assessments beyond individual incident investigations (Defense Daily, Aug. 25; Sept. 6).

This was after Richardson quickly ordered an operational pause in all U.S. fleets following the second Aegis Arleigh Burke-class destroyer collision, the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56).

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office previously revealed it found 37 percent of warfare certifications for cruiser and destroyer crews based in Japan had expired, a five-fold increase over the percentage of expired certifications in a 2015 report (Defense Daily, Sept. 7).

Assessments take two days, with the first including evaluations done in port and focusing on administrative matters like proper manning, qualifications, and training plans. The second day occurs at-sea and assesses propulsion and navigation drills, watch team proficiency, and other critical evolutions.

Ships that fail the day one review do not proceed to day two.

“I have absolute confidence that our crews are working very hard to care for their ships and to meet operational requirements. These assessments are about taking an honest, hard look at how we do business and adjusting, as required, to remain the world’s preeminent naval force, uniquely capable of operating in the waters of the world’s oceans,” Rowden said in a statement.

“Every day, we owe it to our Sailors and their families to explore opportunities to mitigate risk where we can – from immediate daily fundamentals to instituting complex organizational change,” he added.

The RFSAs are meant to accurately determine each ship’s readiness and provide improved confidence to the surface fleet’s ability to execute its core

The assessments aim to accurately determine the readiness of each ship and deliver improved confidence in the surface fleet’s ability to execute its core competencies.

Rowden issues the RFSA guidance in his “Warfighter Serials” series of messages providing guidance on improving readiness.

The Navy said he recognized the need to shore up competence and confidence in the surface fleet after the operational pause.

Serial #13 directed a “concerted focus on the basics upon which safe navigation rests,” with commanders directed to take actions like taking greater heed of the maintenance, training, manning, and certification to ensure greater readness and safety.

The Navy underscored Rowden is working to ensure ships get the appropriate time for training and certifications prior to deployment, increase ownership over the processes, and build a culture of standardization throughout the surface force community.