If Iran had decided earlier this summer to close off the Persian Gulf by placing mines in the Strait of Hormuz, the Navy’s best mine warfare ships would have been unavailable to deal with the problem.Why are they there?
Instead, the Ardent and Dextrous were in port at Bahrain, all but unable to get underway. Even if they had managed to cast off, the extensive mine warfare suites in each ship were not functioning, hampered by cracks and leaks in equipment, damaged wire cables, faulty indicators and exposed electrical wiring.
The two MCMs have been stationed at Bahrain since 1996, when the U.S. decided to establish a permanent mine force in the region. The threat was real — Iranian-laid mines struck a Kuwaiti tanker in 1987 and nearly sank an American frigate in 1988. Iraqi mines damaged two U.S. warships during the 1991 buildup to Operation Desert Storm, helping dissuade the coalition from mounting an amphibious assault on Iraqi forces in Kuwait.Results?
Iraq laid an estimated 1,300 mines in the northern gulf before the 1991 allied invasion, and it took months of efforts by an international group of minesweepers to clear them.
“Cascading casualties occurred [during the inspection] because of poor maintenance and operating practices,” read the report on the Ardent, prepared by the Navy captain who led the inspection of the ship from June 27 to July 1.Is SeaSwap part of the problem (no shock here)?
“There was a demonstrated lack of knowledge and familiarity among watchstanders with shipboard engineering systems, equipment operation and maintenance requirements,” read the report on the Dextrous, prepared by the same officer after the ship’s June 21-24 inspection.
The multiday INSURV inspection is intended to detail the material condition of ships and not meant as a test, although crews are rated for their ability to assess their ship’s condition and detail its problems. The inspection includes an underway period during which ship systems are demonstrated and a pierside portion during which a detailed physical assessment is made.
The assessments are notoriously rigorous, and high scores are rare. MCMs generally receive “below par” assessments, one former senior mine warfare officer said.
“You probably have four or six minesweepers a year that get INSURVs,” the officer said. “Almost every INSURV, you’re a little embarrassed because they turn up something you didn’t anticipate.”
The Dextrous crew received a “satisfactory” rating for its overall self-assessment ability, although the engineering department was rated “unsatisfactory.” Ardent’s crew was evaluated as “marginal” in this area and received an “unsatisfactory” rating for auxiliaries and environmental protection. But the Ardent crew got a “satisfactory” for its “ability to resolve significant material issues during the inspection,” although the engineering department was evaluated as “unsatisfactory.”
“INSURVs are always ugly,” O’Donnell said. “But it’s like a perfect storm over there. You have crew swap, you’re dependent on the ability of port engineers, maintenance people are distracted doing other things. Then you get INSURVs like that.”Ooohhhh, lookie what makes a show...the Little Crappy Ship.
The former senior officer saw another aspect.
“Crews train on identical ships at Ingleside, fly to Bahrain, take over a ship and are supposed to be proficient from day one,” he said. “What bothered me most [about the reports] was the engineering department not being able to operate their own equipment.”
But the officer also saw issues with Sea Swap in the inspection reports.
“When I read the INSURV, the first thing I thought was that this is a failure of the Sea Swap program to pay enough attention to the ownership issues associated with rotating crews,” he said.
“There may be some longer-term implications for the new Littoral Combat Ship,” the former senior mine officer said.We need to put down the B-school Cliffs Notes, put down the PPT, walk away from the latest missive from the insecure bullies at the Diversity Commissariat, and put on the coveralls and remember what we are all about. Mission, Ship, Sailors. Rinse, repeat.
The Navy plans to deploy its LCS vessels in a manner similar to the Bahrain minesweepers. The ships will be based in forward areas and crews will swap out about every six months. The first ships will have Blue and Gold crews in the same manner as ballistic missile submarines, with the two crews rotating. But as the number of LCSs grows, crews will not be tied to a particular ship. Four or five crews might be responsible for three ships, for example.
The San Diego-based Naval Surface Force is developing the crewing and operating concepts for the LCS, and final details are being worked out.
But the implications of problems in the MCM INSURV reports could provide lessons for the LCS program.
“LCS is pretty much in the same category,” one former mine officer said. “I’m really concerned about the mission packages, the training.
“They’re going to have to be ready at a higher level than I think people are thinking about.”