The U.S. Navy is staffed by humans

By Ravi Velloor
The Straits Times

Four days after the USS John S. McCain suffered major damage in a collision while on approach to Singapore, questions swirl about the manner of the accident, and its reasons.

That it should have come so soon after a sister vessel the USS Fitzgerald suffered a similar accident while leaving a Japanese port, has raised a bunch of troubling questions.

As they say, the first time may be an accident and the second coincidence, but three becomes a pattern.

In the US Navy’s case – or more specifically, the 7th Fleet’s case – there have been not three, but four costly mishaps just this year.

Two other ships currently deployed to the Asia-Pacific, the USS Antietam that ran aground in Tokyo Bay and the USS Lake Champlain that struck a South Korean fishing boat, suffered damage this year.

That certainly makes for a pattern. With a US warship calling in Singapore every three days or so, there is every reason for the Republic to take more than a little interest in what’s going on.

Naturally, conspiracy theories abound.

One line of thinking is that hackers may have corrupted the massive computer systems of the John S. McCain and perhaps, other vessels.

In the case of the John S. McCain, that does not seem the case. Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the Pacific fleet, seems to have ruled out a cyber attack in near categorical terms.

Adm Swift should know, of course, but George Kurtz, former head of technology at MacAfee who now owns CrowdStrike, one of the world’s top cyber security companies, had a more nuanced view.

Image may contain: outdoor

USS John S. McCain sustained damage to her port side, which is the left side of the vessel facing forward. Photo was taken off Changi Naval Base on Aug 21, 2017. ST PHOTO: ​DESMOND FOO

 

While declining to speculate, he told me that any assessment of an incident of this nature would necessarily have to be placed in a geo-political context.

In the John S. McCain’s case, it had just completed a Freedom of Navigation Operation, or FONOP, in the South China Sea where it was repeatedly warned by Chinese vessels.

The current chatter in cyber security circles, he said, is that while the McCain’s computers may not have been compromised, it is probably worth examining if anyone could have tinkered with the GPS system to send her, or the other vessel, off course by a few hundred metres.

It is an interesting theory and not the first time it has come up for mention.

In the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, Pierce Brosnan is sent off by MI-6 on precisely such a mission: to block a power-mad media tycoon’s attempt to start the next world war by engineering an incident at sea. In that instance, a British man of war is diverted into the hands of what appears to be Chinese military, sparking fury in Whitehall.

While nothing can be ruled out these days, the likely explanation could be more mundane and hark back to the essence of the craft – the quality of seamanship.

All major navies of the world do suffer accidents. It is estimated that since World War II, the major navies would have together recorded at least 1,400 mishaps.

Closer home, in early 2014, the Indian Navy chief, Admiral DK Joshi, quit after a series of accidents involving his force. The costliest of those mishaps was the loss of a docked Kilo class submarine that sank after an explosion on board while loading missiles for a mission.

At the time, poor observance of protocols was cited as the reason. The larger pattern was one of falling standards, poor equipment, and inadequate training.

But the United States is considered the gold standard of the navy game. It has the best technology, whether for the turbines that provide the power below deck, or in the missiles and radars stacked above. Its warships are designed for far greater crew comfort, than, say, a comparable Russian craft. And it is the rare naval officer in the world who has not read up on the life and times of Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the US nuclear navy, or wished to be like him.

Yet, the US Navy too is staffed by humans. And there is little doubt that its personnel have been under strain and its resources stretched.

The US Congress was recently informed that about 100 ships have been deployed every day since 2001, the year the US suffered the 9/11 attacks. Since its current strength is 277 vessels that makes for a massive utilisation ratio. This, naturally, tells on maintenance, crew rest and training.

While President Donald Trump has said he wants to take the navy to 350 ships, that is a long way away.

In the immediate future, the pressure on its resources will only grow since many ships are due to have completed their normal use cycle and come due for retirement, or scrapping.

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/us-navy-mishap-james-bond-or-poor-seamanship

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One Response to “The U.S. Navy is staffed by humans”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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