OPENING REMARKS OF CHAIRMAN WITTMAN
WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower & Projection Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's joint hearing titled “Navy Readiness – Underlying Problems Associated with the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"I want to welcome Admiral Moran, Rear Admiral Boxall and Mr Pendleton and thank them for attending our hearing on this most important issue. I also want to thank Chairman Wilson for offering to have this joint subcommittee hearing today. I believe that we may arrive at a solution that requires the joint efforts of both of our subcommittees and I look forward to working with the gentleman from South Carolina to expeditiously resolve these potentially egregious underlying issues.
Before I proceed any further, I also want to recognize a special guest in the audience today, Ms. Rachel Eckels. Ms. Eckels’ son, Petty Officer Timothy Eckels, lost his life on the USS MCCAIN just a few weeks ago. Ms. Eckels‐ Thank you for being with us today and for the enormous sacrifice that you and your family have made for this country. We are here today to ensure that the Navy, and Congress, learns from these tragedies and makes the necessary changes.
Naval warfare is a perilous occupation. As we continue to review the recent collisions associated with the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, even in benign environment, we send our sailors into precarious, and often times, deadly situations. Our nation asks much of our service members and I hope that today’s hearing provides some effort to ensure that our sailors are provided the best training and the best ships to sustain their daily lives and in times of war, prevail over any enemy. I think that we can all agree that our nation failed these 17 sailors and their families with these tragic collisions.
Last week, I led a bipartisan congressional delegation with the gentlelady from Guam, Ms Bordallo, to visit the Seventh Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Sawyer, and the sailors homeported at Yokosuka, Japan. I was encouraged at their zeal and tenacity of the fleet, even in the face of difficult events. Nevertheless, I look forward to turning our attention to assess whether there are structural issues that may have contributed to a degraded material and training readiness of our forces in Seventh Fleet.
As the committee reviews the plight of the Seventh Fleet, two things are painfully obvious. The material condition and the operational readiness of the ships are significantly degraded and not acceptable. Of our large surface combatants, the majority of the forward deployed ships are not properly ready to perform their primary warfare areas. Overall, the negative trend lines associated with the operational readiness of our forward deployed ships are deeply troubling. These negative
training trends clearly contributed to the lack of seamanship evident onboard the USS John McCain and the USS Fitzgerald. As to the ships themselves, the material condition of the forward deployed ships suffer as the Navy prioritizes operational deployments over maintenance and modernization. This maintenance and training model places sailors at risk and clearly contributed to the incidents that we witnessed in seventh fleet.
What is equally problematic is the Navy intends to increase the numbers of forward deployed ships over the next few years, thereby increasing the risk to the fleet and our sailors. This increasing reliance on forward deployed ships is not sustainable and need to be significantly modified.
I remain convinced that the long term fix to this problem is to increase the overall force structure and build the Navy that our nation needs. If we build the 355‐ship Navy then we will not be forced into inserting sailors into other higher risk environments. In the short term, we need to adequately fund our training and most important, provide the fleet the time to complete required maintenance and training.
I think that there are a number of other contributing factors that should be explored including Navy training models, impacts associated with cannibalization of other ship parts, and overall funding requirements associated with ship maintenance. Each one of these areas deserves additional assessment.
The forward deployed Navy model is rife with risk and this risk will increase in the future. Navy needs to offer an alternative model that meets the nation’s needs at a reduced risk to our sailors. I thank Chairman Wilson for working with the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee on this important issue and I yield back the balance of time."