A Cry for Help

While clawing for relevance in a world that has a decreased demand for some of its core competencies, it seems the Navy’s quest for high-tech and biggest-bang-for-biggest-buck efficiency might be hobbling the sea service in the area of basic low-tech/no-tech shipboard maintenance. 

Two Navy warships were found to be “unfit for sustained combat operations,” according to a recent Navy Board of Inspection and Survey, or INSURV. The USS Chosin (CG-65), a guided-missile cruiser and billion-dollar Aegis baby of the Ticonderoga ilk was commissioned in 1991 and makes Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, its home. A world away in Norfolk, Va., is the guided-missile destroyer USS Stout (DDG-55), which was commissioned in 1994. Maintenance issues can befall the best, and these ships were designed to be around for decades in significantly better condition than they were found. 

INSURV inspects roughly 50 ships a year, and a single vessel might come up for inspection every five years. Although such failures are not uncommon, INSURV can decide it doesn’t like the lighting in the space and make it a discrepancy, according to a source, it is unusual that two ships of this caliber and prominence would be relegated to the status of rust bucket. (OK, maybe we’re exaggerating.) The major discrepancies for the Chosin and Stout include inoperable electronic and weapons systems, watertight closures being anything but, known inoperable items that still were not repaired, and myriad safety issues — some serious enough to preclude flight operations. Oh, and that costly thief — corrosion. Rust! 

Though one news service says it obtained copies of the inspection reports, we find the release curious and wonder if publication provided a slick opportunity for the Navy to show the push toward reducing shipboard manning and deferring maintenance ashore might not be the greatest ideas and might adversely affect readiness. These have been significant and contentious issues. 

Regardless of the lemonade angle, questions abound: How did it get so bad? Were COs and crew that poor? Was there a manpower shortage? Maybe a lack of shipboard skills? 

The Navy stands at well under 300 ships, a concern for some, including Navy Sugar Daddy Sen. Jim “Women Can’t Fight” Webb. He and the Boys in Blue are looking to grow past 300, but the latest INSURV results raise questions about whether the Navy can take care of its new toys. It probably can, though hopefully it is looking again at those small, small crews and who is to perform what maintenance functions. It is curious that the Navy pushes (expensively) ahead with the littoral combat ship and DDG-1000 as its current fleet might be disintegrating above and below the surface.

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