Following deadly collisions, government watchdog says Navy needs method to evaluate training changes

Posted at 10:54 AM, Nov 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-19 16:27:59-05

NORFOLK, Va. - A government watchdog is calling on the Navy to collect feedback and develop a way to evaluate changes made to Surface Warfare Officer training after two deadly collisions in 2017.

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office issued the report last week, saying without an effective evaluation method in place, the Navy in the near term cannot assess if ships are being safely operated at sea.

In the summer of 2017, a total of 17 Sailors were killed in two separate collisions involving Navy destroyers.

The USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) collided with the ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17, 2017.

The USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC on August 21, 2017.

Since then, the Navy has taken action on the 100+ recommendations that were made in resulting reports and investigations into the collisions.

That included revamping training for officers, including the Junior Officer of the Deck course that puts students in situations to increase their stress levels and teach them how to get out of difficult ship-maneuvering scenarios.

Earlier this year the Navy also began distributing additional safety and navigation tools to the fleet.

The Navy plans a threefold increase in the number of initial ship-driving training hours for Surface Warfare Officers by 2021, when compared to training hours prior to the 2017 collisions.

According to the GAO report, the Navy "has not put key processes and assessments in place to evaluate comprehensively the effectiveness of its changes to ship-driving training," adding that senior Navy leadership believe it could take "16 years or more to know if the planned changes to SWO training were effective in increasing Commanding Officer ship-driving proficiency across the fleet."

The GAO is recommending that the Navy collect fleet-wide feedback on the quality of increased training, routinely conduct ship-driving skill spot checks, and provide a standard criteria to Commanding Officers for qualifying Surface Warfare Officers to drive ships.

The report also recommends a plan to use information from logbooks where Surface Warfare Officers document ship-driving experiences.

In a response, the Navy concurred with the recommendations from the GAO.

You can read the full report from the GAO here.