What’s Ailing the US Fleet?

By Stephen Bryen and Rachel Ehrenfeld
Monday, August 21st, 2017 @ 6:19PM

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After the fourth accident involving a US warship this year, Secretary of Defense James Mattis has stood down the entire Pacific fleet. In the latest disaster, the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker near the Strait of Singapore. Ten crewmen are missing, and another five were injured in the accident. The McCain is the sister ship of the U.S.S. Fitzgerald that suffered a similar “accident” when it collided with a large merchant vessel named the ACX Crystal in June. In that case, the Navy determined to relieve of duty the Fitzgerald’s captain and two senior officers and punished sailors responsible for monitoring the radars and other sensors with the Navy’s “administrative procedures,” one step short of formal Courts Martial.

Is it possible that the McCain’s crew made mistakes similar to their counterparts on the Fitzgerald?  

It is hard to believe that a seizure of incompetence swept through two separate crews in a two-month period, resulting in very similar tragedies, even to the point that in both cases it was the crew compartments of the ships that sustained major damage.

The Navy urgently needs to find out and perhaps even should suspend the Fitzgerald administrative procedures until it does more homework.

There are some possibilities to explore: was the software of the computer systems on both ships somehow damaged, either by hacking or some other means? Were the sensors jammed when both ships passed through very congested shipping lanes with lots of international traffic?  Did a faulty equipment in both ships caused a failure? Are some special conditions in that part of the world that contribute to such “accidents”? 

Remember that these ships are not new; many of them have computer systems running commercial software such as Windows XP.  Even our nuclear submarines are using this obsolete and easily hacked operating system.  Were the Fitzgerald and the McCain victims of easily hacked obsolete computer software?

The Fitzgerald calamity happened in the early hours of the morning while the McCain was hit by the Alnic MC, the merchant ship and tanker at 5:24 AM, just as the skies should have been bright enough for a visual sighting.

Ships are relatively slow moving, but the sensor systems on-board have plenty of range if they were operating correctly.  The watch crew should have had time to inform the bridge and move the ship out of harm’s way. 

Since that didn’t occur on either occasion leads one to suspect that something funny could have been going on.

Congress should insist on a full investigation preferably by outside experts not connected to the Navy.

Let’s hope the Navy brings in the right experts to see if they can find out.  Even though some of the communications equipment and electronics were damaged in both collisions, this avenue of research needs attention as soon as possible, especially at this time when tensions with North Korea demand a fully operating US Fleet. 

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