Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Chairman of the Senate Seapower Committee Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) introduced new legislation Monday aimed at reforming and restoring Navy surface readiness.

The bill, the Surface Warfare Enhancement Act of 2018, seeks to address some of the root causes that led to several Navy mishaps in 2017, including the deadly collisions of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) with commercial vessels.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)
Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

The bill particularly gives the Navy more time and flexibility to spend maintenance funds, requires the Secretary of the Navy to conduct a “clean sheet” comprehensive review of its organization and chains-of-command, puts a Senate-confirmed top Navy civilian in charge of ship maintenance, and does not allow a surface ship to be homeported in a location other than the U.S. or Guam for more than 10 consecutive years.

The maintenance flexibility specifically would allow that any Navy Operations and Maintenance (O&M) funds authorized to be appropriated for any fiscal year after FY ’17 available for operating forces “shall be available through September 30 of the fiscal year after the fiscal year in which authorized.”

In the organizational review, due by Sept. 30, the secretary is directed to consider options to increase the visibility of unit-level readiness at senior levels, reduce doubt and triple-hatting commanders, rationalize organizations responsible for training and certification, simplify reporting requirements for commanding officers, and modify unnecessary relationships/requirements.

McCain and Wicker said these and other reforms in the bill are based on measures outlined in the Comprehensive Review (CR) and Strategic Readiness Review (SRR).

The CR, directed by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson, was a 60-day review of incidents at sea, focused on 7th Fleet operational deployments (Defense Daily, Nov. 2, 2017).

The SRR was a follow-on project, focused on larger Navy-wide issues and it looked into how other organizations reformed after dealing with big mishaps. The latter was formed by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and gave recommendations focused on readiness as a priority, realistically matching supply and demand, streamlining command and control structures for better accountability, and fostering a culture of learning (Defense Daily, Dec. 14, 2017).

Late last month the Navy established a council to oversee the recommendations and reforms originating in both reviews, the Readiness and Reform Oversight Council (RROC), co-chaired by Vice CNO Adm. William Moran and Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly (Defense Daily, Feb. 6).

McCain underscored problems in Navy readiness has yielded disastrous results.

“The ship collisions, including the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, degraded the capabilities of our fleet, cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars, and – most importantly – took precious lives. The status quo is unacceptable. Congress must provide the funding and oversight required to keep our military safe in peace and effective in combat,” McCain said in a statement.

The USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) arrives in the port of Pascagoula, Miss.on Jan. 19 aboard the heavy lift vessel MV Transself as it heads to Huntington Ingalls Industries’ shipyard for repairs and upgrades. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
The USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) arrives in the port of Pascagoula, Miss.on Jan. 19 aboard the heavy lift vessel MV Transself as it heads to Huntington Ingalls Industries’ shipyard for repairs and upgrades. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

“Overextended and undermanned ships, overworked crews, fewer officers with naval mastery, and confusing chains of command have contributed to a decline in our naval power. My legislation – based on the Navy’s own recommendations – is specifically designed to address these and other challenges,” Wicker added.

“Although I have confidence in the Navy’s leadership, I believe Congress needs to play an active role in helping them to succeed in this endeavor,” Wicker said.

McCain noted they intend to work on these measures as part of the FY ’19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

Other key reforms in the bill include requirements that the Navy deliver realistic baseline projections of sailors’ workloads and ship maintenance, maintain watchstanding records and training completed by surface warfare officers (SWO), set minimum at-sea and simulator-based training requirements to qualify for critical positions on a ship, equalize manning between ships homeported in the U.S. and overseas by October 2019, and allows the Navy and other services relief from what the senators call “onerous one-size-fits-all” personal management policies.

The legislation also calls on the Navy to provide for the use of at least six Navy Yard Patrol craft at the Surface Warfare Officer School Basic Divisions Officer Course starting by March 2020 to provide SWO candidates with “foundational skills in an at-sea training environment: like ship handling, navigation, radar operation, and bridge resource management.”

One section of the bill is less focused on Navy-specific measures and allows any member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to request the Secretary of Defense designate a military unit of their service as unavailable for scheduled deployment “due to a significant readiness deficiency or deficiencies.” If the Secretary acts on the request, he must submit a written notice of it to the congressional defense committees.