WASHINGTON - Today, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's joint hearing titled “Surface Warfare: At a Crossroads.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
"I thank the gentleman for yielding and I too want to thank Secretary Spencer and Admiral Richardson for attending this important hearing.
Dr. James Holmes, a noted Navy War College professor, recently wrote an article entitled 'Who Watches the Watchers in the United States Navy.' In this article, he expressed concern about the apparent lack of accountability for the structural problems in the surface warfare community. He indicated that the Navy is quick in citing senior leadership’s loss of confidence in commanding officers but is, at best, circumspect when assessing fault to the system that drove these commanding officers to seek what he calls the 'normalization of deviation.' This culture of holding the commanding officer accountable is very apparent with the decision announced on Tuesday to bring the commanding officers, and other officials, from the USS Fitzgerald and McCain before an article 32 hearing for negligent homicide.
While I agree with the Navy that officers should be held accountable, I am equally convinced that we need to reform the system that drove these officers to avoid additional incidents and to reduce future 'normalization of deviation' instances. I think the Navy has taken a good first step at addressing these systemic areas but there are a multitude of other issues that need to be reviewed to include: organization reform, manning deficiencies, material readiness, and serious training reform.
While the Comprehensive Review and the Strategic Readiness Review have identified the organizational problems facing the Navy, I think it is time to take bold steps in correcting the deficiencies that were identified almost 15 years ago. It is time to flatten the organization and centralize the title 10 manning, training and equipping authorities at Fleet Forces Command. It is time to reactivate the 2nd Fleet and eliminate 4th fleet to ensure the Navy retains an emphasis on deployment credibility. It is time that we consolidate Navy policy intellect by collocating the three star type commanders at Fleet Forces Command. And it is time for Congress to end restrictions that contributed to the 7th Fleet disorganization and allow the Navy to efficiently reorganize.
I was particularly disappointed with the manning levels of our forward deployed naval forces, particularly concerning the disparity between different ship classes. I do not understand why forward deployed naval forces are the worst manned forces in the surface Navy. They need to be the best.
With regard to training, I am concerned that as our ships become more technically challenging to operate, our surface warfare community has retained a generalist preference that contributes to the surface warfare malaise. I think it is time that we adopt specialists similar to the aviation community and foreign navies. We should require surface warfare officers to specialize in deck or engineering and allow needed junior officer time to develop basic skills. Further, the Navy should consider adopting certification milestones similar to the commercial sector. The U.S. Navy needs to significantly improve the surface warfare pipeline to ensure navy officers are provided basic navigation and engineering skills.
Finally, as to correcting material issues, I think it is time that we start to take our INSURV process seriously and correct the material problems facing the forward deployed navy forces. INSURV is a statutory driven process that provides Congress and our nation a snapshot of the material condition of the fleet. I am concerned that the classification of the INSURV reports fails to provide our nation a reasonable perspective of the negative consequences associated with underfunding the readiness accounts. Navy should be prepared to publicly articulate the risk of our surface ship maintenance. We need to ensure that forward deployed navy forces are properly maintained with a competent workforce that has the capacity and skills to maintain the fleet. It is time that we routinely rotate ships back to the United States that have been forward deployed for over 20 years.
We have significant challenges that face our surface forces but with time and resolve, I am confident that we can right the surface forces that are perilously askew.
As to Dr. Holmes’s question as to who watches the watchers, I want to unambiguously answer that this committee will continue to drive toward accountability and providing solutions to t