As regular followers of the blog are all too aware, the US
Navy’s mine countermeasure assets are few and dwindling. Compounding this problem is that fact that
the US Navy bet ‘all in’ on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future and failed
resoundingly. As of now, there are only
plans for 6 LCS-MCM, three on each coast.
Two additional training LCS-MCM might or might not be deployable.
The Navy’s helo-based MCM, in the form of 28 MH-53E Sea
Dragons, is ancient, long overdue for retirement, and scheduled to be retired
without replacement (see, “MH-53E and Mine Countermeasures”).
The Navy also operates 11 Avenger class MCM vessels which,
like the MH-53E’s, are past due retirement and have barely been kept seaworthy.
With this background, you would think that the Navy would
treasure every MCM asset it has and the loss of any would be devastating. That makes the Jan 2013 grounding and loss of
the Avenger class USS Guardian (MCM-5) on a reef in the Philippines all the
more tragic. The only saving grace is
that no one was killed.
|USS Guardian On Reef|
Let’s take a look at the Navy’s grounding report, provided
by the Navy’s Freedom of Information service. (2)
The first sentence in the Executive Summary of the original
report says it all:
grounding of USS GUARDIAN was entirely preventable.
CO, XO/NAV, and ANAV failed to ensure consistent application and compliance
with prudent, safe, and sound navigation principles and standards during
navigation planning and underway execution.
Does this sound at all familiar? Isn’t this almost word for word the findings
in the Burke collisions? The Navy has
had repeated opportunities to correct its cultural and institutional leadership
failings and has declined to do so.
Before we go any further, it is necessary to address the
general belief that the cause of the grounding was a chart error which implies
that the crew was not at fault. This is
factually only partially correct and the conclusion that the crew was not to
blame is totally incorrect.
The crew had access to multiple charts and sources of
navigational data, only one of which had an incorrect location for the reef. The Captain and navigation team knew about the chart discrepancy, opted to
ignore it, and chose to rely on the incorrect chart in a mistaken
belief that it was the more reliable one.
The report covers the chart issue in great detail and makes clear that
the inaccurate chart was not the cause of the grounding.
Now, let’s look at some specifics.
The Navigation Plan was badly flawed. From the report,
CO-approved Navigation Plan for the transit from Subic Bay, RP to Makassar,
Indonesia was imprudent, unsafe, and unsound.
So, disaster was baked into the plan.
CO-approved Voyage Plan for the restricted waters transits inbound and outbound
Subic Bay, coupled with corresponding log entries and crew member statements,
indicate exclusive reliance on a single source of electronic navigation
(Global Positioning System (GPS) from the AN/WRN-6 or Defense Advanced GPS
Receiver (DAGR)) by the Bridge during the Sea and Anchor Details despite the
availability of visual aids to navigation and RADAR navigation.
How many times has ComNavOps pointed out the Navy’s
dependence on GPS and subsequent loss of basic navigational skills? Further, the dependence has created an air of
arrogance fostering the belief that GPS is flawless. This arrogance has led to the abandonment of
basic precautions like lookouts, radar fixes, etc.
the CO-approved Voyage Plan plotted the Plan of Intended Movement (PIM) over
the northwest corner of the South Islet of Tubbataha Reefs, nearly the exact
location where USS GUARDIAN ran aground.
plotted your own grounding! This is
incompetence and negligence on a staggering scale.
Ignoring the fact that the navigation plan intended to run
over a reef, there were various alarms that attempted to point out dangers.
on a simulation ran by the Investigating Officer and the_ Technical Assistant
on the CO-approved Voyage Plan used by USS GUARDIAN on VMS-3 [ed, Voyage
Management System], when the ship approached Jessie Beazley Reef and Tubbataha
Reefs the VMS-3 issued 12 dangers with associated visual and audible alerts
prior to the reaching the location of the grounding.
visual VMS alarms and dangers were available to the OOD, QMOW, and CIC
watchstanders at various portions of the transit. However, based on witness
statements, it is my opinion that the audible alarms were not heard because the
Bridge and CIC either disabled the audible alarm feature or turned the VMS volume
down on their respective VMS consoles.
You plotted your own grounding and you turned off the alarms
that tried to save you????
Wait, it gets better.
USS GUARDIAN not ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef, the imprudent, unsafe, and
unsound CO-approved Navigation Plan would have placed the ship directly over
another navigation hazard with unknown depth at latitude …
So, they had a second potential grounding as a backup in
case the first didn’t get them? You’ve
got to admire that kind of determination to self-destruct.
Equipment operability was also an issue.
|Guardian On Reef|
equipment related to safe navigation was operable at the time of grounding with
the exception of the Digital Dead Reckoning Tracer (DDRT) and the starboard
Bridge-to-Bridge radio in the Pilot House.
to LCDR Rice assuming command, the Digital Dead Reckoning Tracer (DDRT) had not
been used. When LCDR Rice assumed command, he directed use of the DDRT for
contact management in ere. The CO released a Category Two Casualty Report
(CASREP) for the DDRT, and technical representatives had come onboard to
repair/replace a faulty circuit card. The repairs were not successful, and the
DDRT remained degraded at the start of deployment up until the grounding on 17
This demonstrates a long seen pattern of degraded equipment
and failure to repair in a timely manner.
The Navy is focused on new ship construction to the catastrophic
detriment of existing ships.
|Guardian Being Cut Up During Salvage Operations|
The report offers a conclusion,
is nothing more fundamental to a professional mariner than the safe navigation
of his or her vessel. As this investigation shows, the U.S. Navy is
"re-learning" painful lessons taught by the grounding of USS PATRIOT
(MCM 7) near Chinhae Bay, Korea on 19 March 2005, and the grounding of USS PORT
ROYAL (CG 73) on 5 February 2009. Only this time the lessons cost our Navy the
total loss of a commissioned warship, and nearly cost Sailors' lives.
can and must do better. My recommendations address deficiencies and/or
causal/contributing factors identified in the areas of shipboard leadership,
crew readiness, navigation standards, manning, training, personal qualification
Did the Navy learn any lessons from any of these
incidents? The subsequent grounding of
the Antietam and collisions of the McCain and Fitzgerald demonstrate that they
On an interesting and possibly related note, the report
shows that the USS Guardian had 59 at-sea days in all of 2012. That is not much sea time and the lack of practical
experience may have been a contributing factor to the grounding. We are seeing the same phenomenon play out,
today, in naval aviation with non-deployed squadrons getting barely enough
flight hours to stay flight qualified let alone any advanced training. Similarly, no LCS deployed in 2018. How are Navy personnel supposed to get experience
if they don’t operate?
As the old saying has it, the sea is a harsh mistress. Arrogance toward the sea will kill you. Refusal to learn lessons will ensure that
disasters continue to happen. Navy
leadership is badly broken and incapable of fixing itself. Congress and the Secretary of the Navy need
to clean house and fire every Navy Admiral and start over.
(1)Navy Matters blog, “MH-53E and Mine Countermeasures”, 17-Apr-2018,