Floor Statements

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement today at a hearing on recent U.S. Navy incidents at sea:

“The committee meets this morning to receive testimony on recent U.S. Navy collisions at sea, including USS Lake Champlain, USS Fitzgerald, and USS John S. McCain, as well as the grounding of USS Antietam. We welcome our witnesses:

  • “The Honorable Richard Spencer, Secretary of the Navy;
  • “Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations;
  • “And Mr. John Pendleton, Director of Defense Force Structure and Readiness Issues at the Government Accountability Office.

“I would also like to recognize family members who lost loved ones in the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions, who are here with us today as our honored guests.

“From the Fitzgerald:

  • “Erin Rehm, wife of Chief Petty Officer Gary Rehm.
  • “Stephen, Ritsuko, and Sho Douglass, parents and brother of Petty Officer Third Class Shingo Douglass.
  • “Senior Chief Petty Officer Victor and Carmen Sibayan and their son Luke, parents and brother of Petty Officer First Class Carlos Victor Sibayan.
  • “Wayne and Nikki Rigsby, father and step-mother of Seaman Dakota Rigsby.
  • “Darrold Martin, father of Petty Officer First Class Xavier Martin.

From the McCain:

  • “Jennifer Simon, wife of Petty Officer First Class Kevin Bushell, and his mother Karen Bushell along with her wife, Anne Shane.
  • “Rachel Eckels, mother of Petty Officer Second Class Timothy Eckels.
  • “Sidney, Theresa, and Austin Palmer, parents and brother of Petty Officer Second Class Logan Palmer.

“Let me express my deepest condolences to you all, on behalf of this committee, the U.S. Senate, and the American people. Your presence here today reminds us of our sacred obligation to look after the young people who volunteer to serve in the military.

“The USS John S. McCain was named after my father and my grandfather. I remember the ship launching ceremony nearly 25 years ago, and my wife, Cindy, continues to serve as the ship sponsor. So, believe me, these tragedies are personal for me and my family as well, and we share in your sorrow. 

“My commitment to all of you is that we will get to the bottom of these incidents. It is simply unacceptable for U.S. Navy ships to run aground or collide with other ships—and to have four such incidents in the span of seven months is truly alarming. This committee takes seriously its oversight role. We will identify shortcomings, fix them, and hold people accountable. We will learn lessons from these recent tragedies to make the Navy better and all who serve in it safer. I know our Navy leaders share these goals and will work together with us to achieve them.

“To that end, I hope our witnesses will help the committee better understand what happened with regard to these incidents. We are interested in the status of investigations, common factors or trends identified, root causes, corrective actions, and accountability measures. We would also like to know the extent and cost of damage to the ships and operational impacts of unanticipated repairs. Finally, we ask you to highlight areas in which we in Congress can assist to help ensure the safety and proficiency of our sailors, including changes to current law.

“I am deeply concerned by Mr. Pendleton’s written testimony, which indicates 37 percent—over one-third—of the training certifications for U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers based in Japan were expired as of June. As he notes, this represents more than a fivefold increase in the percentage of expired warfare certifications for these ships in the last two years. Press reporting paints an even bleaker picture. The McCain had expired training certifications in six out of the 10 key warfare mission areas. The Fitzgerald had expired certifications in all 10 mission areas. 

“Secretary Spencer and Admiral Richardson, I do not need to tell you that this is troubling—and it is unacceptable. And we acknowledge and appreciate the accountability actions the Navy has taken to date. The Navy has relieved two Commanding Officers, a Commander, and Captain. It has issued 20 reprimands to other officers and enlisted sailors. Since August 23rd, the squadron, two-star strike group, and three-star fleet commander have all been relieved for cause.

“I assure you that this committee will do everything we can to support the Navy leaderships’s efforts to course correct. But we must also call you to task and demand answers. As leaders of our Navy, you must do better.

“In particular, I would like to know why the recommendations of the GAO and other relevant reviews, such as the 2010 Fleet Review Panel, were not effectively implemented and maintained.

“The lives of the 17 sailors lost in the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions were priceless, and I mourn their loss. These preventable incidents also come with a very real price tag in terms of the cost of these to taxpayers. I understand the current estimate for repairs is approximately $600 million, but the cost will also be felt in unexpected deployments for other ships to meet operational requirements.

“I am also concerned by the apparent difficulty of navigating safely in the Western Pacific. With three of these ships now non-deployable for months or years due to damage repairs, there are serious questions about our maritime readiness to fight in response to North Korean, Chinese, and Russian aggression. 

“The ongoing reviews directed by Secretary Spencer and Admiral Richardson must quickly get to the bottom of this and identify root causes, corrective actions, and further accountability actions. Time is of the essence. I hope these reviews fully examine how discrete changes over the years have compounded and resulted in prioritizing the need to do more with less—and that has come at the expense of operational effectiveness.

“These changes include longer deployments, so-called ‘optimal manning’ of ships; less hands-on and initial training; less time for maintenance; less time to train; and an officer personnel system, governed by laws like the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act and the Goldwater-Nichols Act, which were put in place more than three decades ago, and which may have created a preference for breadth of experience over depth of technical expertise.

“We need to look seriously and rigorously at all of these types of systemic contributing factors, and I would like your assurance, Secretary Spencer, that you will do so—and that as you consider additional accountability actions, you will look at all levels of command, as appropriate.

“While we are focused on incidents at sea today, this Committee recognizes that the current readiness crisis affects all of our military services. It is part of a larger, deeper trend of forcing military units, at the tactical level, to try to do too much with too little. In the last three years, fatal training accidents have taken the lives of four times more service members than our enemies have in combat. This cannot continue. Ultimately, this is an issue of command.

“There is plenty of blame to go around for the deteriorated state of our military, and we cannot ignore Congress’s responsibility. Years of budget cuts, continuing resolutions, and sequestration have forced our military to maintain a high operational tempo with limited resources. We know that has come at the cost of training, maintenance, readiness, effectiveness, and the lives of too many brave young Americans. Our service chiefs, including the Chief of Naval Operations, have testified repeatedly that the Budget Control Act and sequestration are endangering the lives of our men and women in uniform. We were warned.

“To fix this problem, we must all do better—military leaders must make honest assessments of their requirements and request the full extent of what they need. In turn, we in Congress must provide those resources in a timely and predictable way. That is the only to truly restore the readiness of our force. It is the only solution to ensuring that accidents like this do not happen again. And it is the bare minimum we owe to the brave men and women who risk their lives to defend our nation.”