DoD: Ukraine Sinks Russian Supply Ship With Harpoon Missile

Ukrainian forces used a Harpoon missile to sink a Russian resupply ship headed to Snake Island, a senior defense official told reporters Friday afternoon. The sinking of the ship helped Ukrainian forces retake Snake Island, which had been in Russian control since the early days of the invasion. The island, called Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukraine, […]

Danish land-based Harpoon launcher in 2002.

Ukrainian forces used a Harpoon missile to sink a Russian resupply ship headed to Snake Island, a senior defense official told reporters Friday afternoon.

The sinking of the ship helped Ukrainian forces retake Snake Island, which had been in Russian control since the early days of the invasion. The island, called Zmiinyi Ostriv in Ukraine, was the symbol of Ukrainian resistance after a Ukrainian service member on the island told Russian warship Moskva to “go fuck yourself.” Ukraine later sank Moskva.

Ukrainian forces claimed it retook the island Thursday, CNN reported, although Russia claimed its forces left as a sign of good faith. The Russian claims are false, the senior defense official said.

“In fact, the way we view this development is that the Ukrainians were very successful at applying significant pressure on the Russians, including by using those harpoon missiles that they recently acquired to attack a resupply ship, and when you realize how barren and deserted Snake Island is, you understand the importance of resupply,” the defense official said. “So the Ukrainians made it very hard for the Russians to sustain their operations there, made them very vulnerable to Ukrainian strike.”

Retaking Snake Island can help the Ukrainians better defend Odesa as well as potentially begin to look at reopening shipping lanes, which would help Ukraine send out its grain.

However, the Russian blockade of the Black Sea continues to be the biggest naval challenge for Ukraine, the official said.

The United States on Friday announced an additional $820 million in aid for Ukraine, with some coming from the existing U.S. stock and the rest providing funding for equipment that will be built by the defense industry.

The U.S. will send additional ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rock Systems (HIMARS) through the presidential drawdown, which means the U.S. will pull from its existing supply.

It will also send two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, 155mm artillery ammunition and four additional counter-artillery radars through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

The most recent package did not include any maritime elements, although the U.S. announced it was sending 18 coastal and riverine boats, as well as a vehicle-mounted Harpoon launcher in past assistance.

Of the 19 boats, six are Metal Shark maritime combat vessels and 10 are 34-foot, Dauntless Sea Ark patrol boats, according to the Department of Defense.

Coast Guard Issues Austal USA Contract Worth up to $3.3B for Offshore Patrol Cutter

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line. […]

An artist’s conception of Eastern Shipbuilding’s Offshore Patrol Cutter design.

The Coast Guard has issued Austal USA contract work up to $3.3 billion to build the service’s Offshore Patrol Cutter, the company announced on Thursday.While the initial award is for $208.26 million, the contract has options for as many as 11 OPCs that Austal will build at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard’s new steel production line.

“Austal USA will construct the OPC using its proven ship manufacturing processes and innovative production methods that incorporate lean manufacturing principles, modular construction, and moving assembly lines in the company’s new state-of-the-art enclosed steel production facility,” the company said in a news release.

With eyes on the OPC contract in addition to the Marine Corps’ Light Amphibious Warship (LAW), Austal broke ground on its new steel facility last March.

“This contract award is the result of our continued investment in our people and our facilities. We are honored the Coast Guard has selected our team of shipbuilders to deliver its most important acquisition program,” Rusty Murdaugh, the president of Austal USA, said in the news release. “We are also thrilled for our community and our tremendous supplier base as this program will provide our shipbuilding team the backlog and stability for continued growth.”

The award comes after the Coast Guard in 2019 decided to recompete the OPC contract due to delays at Eastern Shipbuilding Group, which had difficulty meeting its contract obligations following damage the Panama City, Fla., yard suffered in 2018 from Hurricane Michael, USNI News reported at the time. Eastern Shipbuilding is on contract to build the first four OPCs.

HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., which builds the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, also bid for the OPC recompete.

HII entered this competition with a solid commitment to support our Coast Guard partners in building this important part of their fleet. Although we are very disappointed in the Offshore Patrol Cutter stage 2 decision, we remain committed to serving the Coast Guard on the National Security Cutters we are currently building, and look forward to opportunities to support this valued customer in the future,” Kimberly Aguillard, a spokesperson for Ingalls, said in a statement. “As demonstrated by our recent launch and recovery of an [Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle] with Pharos in Pascagoula River, HII and Ingalls Shipbuilding are hyper focused on growing and continuing to innovate and demonstrate capabilities in support of our customers.”

The Coast Guard is slated to buy 25 Heritage-class OPCs for its program of record, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The new OPCs will replace the Reliance-class and Famous-class Medium Endurance Cutters.

Navy Plans To Defuel Red Hill By End of 2024, Leak Result of Human Error

The Navy will not finish defueling Red Hill until Dec. 31, 2024, at the earliest, according to the Navy’s defueling plan for the Hawaii fuel storage facility. The defueling plan, as well as the Navy’s investigation into leaks at Red Hill – which led to decontamination of the drinking water used by Hawaii residents and […]

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro is shown some of the items highlighted in the third-party assessment of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii on June 13, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

The Navy will not finish defueling Red Hill until Dec. 31, 2024, at the earliest, according to the Navy’s defueling plan for the Hawaii fuel storage facility.
The defueling plan, as well as the Navy’s investigation into leaks at Red Hill – which led to decontamination of the drinking water used by Hawaii residents and the Navy community – were released Thursday night by the Hawaii Department of Health. The documents were embargoed by the Navy until Friday morning.

“We are releasing these documents in the interest of transparency,” Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho said in a news release. “Red Hill needs to be shut down as quickly as possible and we fully expect that the Navy will marshal all possible available resources to defuel and decommission the facility. However, with the extensive repairs needed and the Navy’s history of spills from unsafe pipelines, our first priority continues to be ensuring that all defueling activities are performed safely for the sake of the people and environment of Hawai‘i.”

While the Navy’s defueling plan sets Dec. 31, 2024 as the earliest date that the defueling process will finish, it mentions that there are potential delays that could cause it to take longer. It will take four to eight months to defuel the storage facility, according to the Navy’s defueling plan.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who ordered the defueling, has called for the creation of a Joint Task Force Red Hill to oversee the defueling process. A senior Navy official, who has not yet been announced, will lead the process.

The Navy will conduct the plan in five phases, with the first phase already completed and second expected to be finished by the end of August. The first phase was the review of the third-party assessment followed by identification of actions necessary for defueling. The Navy will then implement necessary actions for making Red Hill safe to defuel with executing actions for final preparedness as the fourth step.

In defueling Red Hill, the Navy will first have to repair some of the pipes it will later use. This requires the removal of 1,159,000 gallons of fuel from those lines. That fuel will be stored in a surge tank, according to the plan.

The longest phase is the third one, which is slated to start in September 2022 and finish in January 2024. This phase includes hiring contractors to complete work at Red Hill as well as the infrastructure repairs necessary to defuel the facility.

The last step is the defueling and relocation of the fuel. The Navy needs to remove fuel from 20 tanks, four surge tanks and any relative pipes.

It is not clear where the fuel is expected to go. Adm. John Aquilino, who leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, declined to tell reporters where the fuel will be distributed, citing classification during a Thursday roundtable.

“I can tell you that those facilities, around the globe and at sea, that fuel exists,” Aquilino said. “It’s being also monitored and maintained and supported by either commercial activities, through the requirements as are determined by the regulators, and all those facilities have specific requirements for maintenance and for storage and those will be met as we always do.”

There are currently 57 Navy defense fueling support points, Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, told reporters. The Navy has been examining each of them to make sure there is not another Red Hill incident, he said.

The marine ship diesel fuel, which is about 12.5 million gallons, and 63 million gallons of aviation jet fuel, will be used on Hawaii, according to the defueling plan. It will be moved using a commercial tanker or pipeline.

The remaining 30 million gallons of aviation jet fuel will head to the West Coast. Planning is also underway for alternative or supplemental storage sights, including floating storage.
The Navy’s plan is slated to change, with the sea service predicting an updated version in September.

“DoD is focused on the safe and expeditious defueling of Red Hill. DoD’s commitment to protect the population of Hawaii, the environment, and the security of the nation will guide all of our actions in implementing this defueling plan,” according to the plan.

Human Error

The Navy is taking responsibility for the May 6, 2021 and Nov. 20, 2021, spills that led to water contamination, Paparo said during the roundtable with reporters.

“As members of this community, we have a solemn obligation to be good stewards of the environment and good neighbors to one another,” Paparo said. “The contamination of the Navy water systems severely disrupted their lives, their livelihood and their well being and the well being of our workforce, our families and our communities.”

The spills were the result of human error, poor system knowledge and inadequate maintenance practices, Paparo said.

The initial spill on May 6 was handled incorrectly, leading to 20,000 gallons of fuel being held in an overhead fire suppression system retention line, which was not known at the time. Workers at Red Hill used incorrect assumptions and believed they had accounted for all of the fuel from the spill.

In November, the retention line, sagging under the weight of the fuel, was struck, resulting in a leak. It was initially reported as a water leak because workers did not know there was fuel in the retention line, Paparo said.

The responders were not trained to stop the fuel leak. While personnel checked to make sure that the above ground well was not contaminated, a lack of understanding led them to not realize that fuel could reach below ground wells, Paparo said.

The contaminated water was discovered on Nov. 28 after a report of a chemical smell.

The Navy declined to tell reporters how many people were reassigned due to loss of confidence as a result of the Red Hill fuel leak. The Navy is looking at administrative and disciplinary actions consistent with the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

Department of Defense Red Hill Defueling Plan, Navy Investigation into Red Hill Fuel Leak

The following are the June 30, 2022, Department of Defense Red Hill Defueling Plan and the Navy Investigation into the Red Hill fuel leak. From the defueling plan: Executive Summary In accordance with the Secretary of Defense’s (SECDEF) direction in his March 7, 2022 memo and the requirements in Directive 4 of the State of […]

The following are the June 30, 2022, Department of Defense Red Hill Defueling Plan and the Navy Investigation into the Red Hill fuel leak.

From the defueling plan:

Executive Summary

In accordance with the Secretary of Defense’s (SECDEF) direction in his March 7, 2022 memo and the requirements in Directive 4 of the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s (DOH) May 6, 2022 superseding Emergency Order (EO), the Department of Defense (DoD) will safely defuel and close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (Red Hill). On behalf of DoD, the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), in coordination with the Director, Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), provides this plan to defuel the facility. This plan will put DoD on course to achieve the completion of defueling at the earliest date consistent with the safe defueling of the facility.

The plan is evidence-driven and relies on the recommendations of subject matter experts. The plan provides interim milestones for the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to achieve throughout the pre-defueling process in order to make the facility safe for defueling. Upon a determination that the facility is safe to defuel, the plan requires defueling operations to commence as soon as practicable and targets the completion of that defueling within eight months of commencement.

Current planning estimates completion of defueling by the end of 2024. DoD, based on input from its subject matter experts, identified December 31, 2024 as the earliest date that is consistent with the safe defueling of the facility, based on the information that DoD has at this time. The December 2024 completion date is subject to contingencies, but DoD will work to mitigate any delays caused by contingencies and will inform DOH and the public about any major contingencies that arise during plan implementation that may affect timelines. DoD is committed to transparency in its assumptions and analyses, not only to obtain regulatory concurrence from the DOH but also to build credibility and trust with the people of Hawaii.

DoD is taking action to ensure that there is strong command and control in place to facilitate successful implementation of this plan. The Secretary of Defense is directing the standup of Joint Task Force Red Hill (JTF Red Hill), led by a senior Navy flag officer whose sole responsibility is to ensure the Department’s safe and expeditious defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Once on-site in Hawaii, the Commander, JTF Red Hill will be responsible for oversight and execution of this defueling plan. The Commander will report to the Secretary of Defense through the Commander, US IndoPacific Command. The JTF Red Hill will operate from Hawaii and house experts from the Department of the Navy, DLA, and other components across DoD. These experts, drawn from the fields of construction, safety and spill response, engineering, and logistics, will work full-time on the defueling efforts and will report directly to the Commander, JTF Red Hill. The JTF Red Hill will also lead DoD’s interface with DOH and with the local community in Oahu.

Department of Defense Red Hill Defueling Plan

Download the document here.

Navy Investigation Into Red Hill Fuel Leak

Download the document here.

Report to Congress on U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine

The following is the June 24, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine.  From the report After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Obama Administration provided Ukraine nonlethal security assistance, such as body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, patrol boats, rations, tents, […]

The following is the June 24, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, U.S. Security Assistance to Ukraine. 

From the report

After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, the Obama Administration provided Ukraine nonlethal security assistance, such as body armor, helmets, vehicles, night and thermal vision devices, heavy engineering equipment, advanced radios, patrol boats, rations, tents, counter-mortar radars, uniforms, medical kits, and other related items. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced U.S. willingness to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.

Since 2018, Ukraine used FMF, as well as some of its national funds, to procure U.S. defense equipment, including Javelin anti-armor missiles and Mark VI patrol boats purchased through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) system. Ukraine also used a combination of FMF and national funds to refurbish former U.S. Coast Guard Island- class patrol boats provided through the Excess Defense Articles (EDA; 22 U.S.C. §2321j) program. On April 24, 2022, the State Department notified Congress of a potential FMS sale of up to $165 million for nonstandard ammunition for Ukraine. In addition, Ukraine has purchased firearms, ammunition, ordnance, and other laser, imaging, or guidance equipment directly from U.S. suppliers via Direct Commercial Sales.

According to DOD, USAI packages prior to FY2022 provided sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, Mark VI patrol boats, electronic warfare detection and secure communications, satellite imagery and analysis capability, counter-unmanned aerial systems (UAS), air surveillance systems to monitor sovereign airspace, night vision devices, and equipment to support military medical treatment and combat evacuation procedures.

In 2022, the United States has provided more advanced defense equipment to Ukraine, as well as greater amounts of previously provided equipment. According to DOD, U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine as of June 17, 2022, has included the following:

    • High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and ammunition;
    • 1,400+ Stinger anti-aircraft systems;
    • 6,500+ Javelin anti-armor systems and 20,000+ other anti-armor systems;
    • 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical UAS and 700+ Switchblade Tactical UAS;
    • 126 155 mm Howitzers with 260,000 artillery rounds;
    • 20 Mi-17 helicopters
    • hundreds of Armored Humvee Vehicles;
    • 200 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers;
    • 7,000+ small arms and 50+ million rounds of ammunition;
    • laser-guided rocket systems; and
    • other essential nonlethal equipment, including communications and intelligence equipment.

Several NATO and European Union (EU) members also have provided weapons and military assistance to Ukraine. In addition, the Biden Administration authorized third-party transfers of U.S. defense articles and equipment from several NATO and EU members to Ukraine.

Download the document here.

Navy Commissions Virginia-Class Attack Submarine USS Montana

The Navy welcomed the 21st Virginia-class submarine into the fleet over the weekend, the service announced Monday. USS Montana (SSN-794) is the third of the Block IV Virginia-class submarines to deliver to the Navy from Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding. It is the second naval war vessel to bear the name of Montana, the other […]

Sailors attached to the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Montana (SSN 794) man the boat during a commissioning ceremony in Norfolk, Va., on June 25, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy welcomed the 21st Virginia-class submarine into the fleet over the weekend, the service announced Monday.

USS Montana (SSN-794) is the third of the Block IV Virginia-class submarines to deliver to the Navy from Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding. It is the second naval war vessel to bear the name of Montana, the other being the former USS Montana (ACR-13), which was decommissioned in 1921.

Cmdr. Jon Quimby will lead Montana as its commanding officer. The submarine is 377 feet long, with a 34-foot beam, according to a Department of Defense news release announcing the commissioning. Montana can dive to at least 800 feet. Its crew will be approximately 136.

The submarine will provide next generation stealth, surveillance and special warfare capabilities, Under Secretary of the Navy Erik Raven said during the commissioning ceremony.

“She will strengthen our nation’s ability to keep the peace or restore it through decisive action,” Raven said. “This powerful boat and her crew will protect our sea lanes, strengthen our maritime dominance and deepen our relationships with our allies and partners.”

The submarine’s namesake represents the state and its American Indian tribes, Raven said. The ship’s sponsor is former Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewel and its maid of honor is Mariah Gladstone, a member of the Blackfeet nation.

“The Montana big sky spirit will carry our vigilantes of the deep through many challenges and missions ahead even when its crew cannot see the sky,” Raven said.

The Block IV submarines are expected to make 15 deployments while having three planned availabilities, according to a Navy news release on the commissioning.

The fast-attack submarines are core to the Navy’s mission and Montana‘s design will help the Navy compete with other powers, executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Chris Jessel said during the commissioning.

Montana‘s adaptability makes it highly responsive to the changing mission requirements and provides the nation with the capabilities required to be the decisive factor in in any conflict,” Jessel said.

HII delivered Montana back in March, USNI News previously reported. The submarine is the 10th Virginia-class boat HII has delivered to the Navy.

Construction on Montana began in 2015 and took five years. It was christened in 2020. Montana completed sea trials in February and underwent final testing in March.

The submarine represents the best of American ability, said Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding.

It’s “American manufacturing at its finest,” Boykin said. “American ingenuity in all its splendor. And American protection like none other.”

18 Patrol Boats Sent to Ukraine Set for River Duty, Says Pentagon

The 18 patrol boats being sent to Ukraine as part of additional aid announced Thursday will be used to monitor and protect Ukraine’s rivers, a senior defense official told reporters Friday. The United States will be sending two small unit riverine crafts that are 35 feet long, six maritime combat crafts that are 40 feet […]

A US Navy Mark VI patrol boat operating in the Persian Gulf. US Army Photo

The 18 patrol boats being sent to Ukraine as part of additional aid announced Thursday will be used to monitor and protect Ukraine’s rivers, a senior defense official told reporters Friday.

The United States will be sending two small unit riverine crafts that are 35 feet long, six maritime combat crafts that are 40 feet long and 10 medium force protection patrol boats that are 34 feet long, the senior defense official said.

It is unclear of where the in the inventory the boats are coming from, although because they are authorized through the presidential drawdown, they must come from existing Department of Defense supply.

The Navy referred a question about the patrol boats coming from the sea service to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which declined to comment further beyond the morning briefing.

2005 satellite image Ukraine. The Dnieper River in the center almost bisects the country. NASA Photo

The boats will have limited use for coastal defense, the senior defense official said. Instead, Ukraine is relying on systems like Harpoons, which Denmark has provided. The U.S. will also be sending vehicle-mounted Harpoon launchers as part of previously announced assistance.

The U.S. has not sent large naval vessels to Ukraine as part of assistance packages. Lawmakers proposed sending five littoral combat ships to Ukraine, but the country rejected the idea, Defense News reported.

The senior defense official was not able to provide a number of Russian ships currently in the Black Sea, although the official noted that the Russian blockade was still ongoing, which has cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov.

USNI News contributor H.I. Sutton tweeted satellite imagery showing seven Russian ships and a submarine near Novorossiysk Friday. They include three Ropucha-class landing ships, an Alligator-class landing ship, an Ivan Gren-class landing ship, a Grisha-III-class light frigate, a patrol ship and a Kilo-class diesel attack submarine.

HASC’s FY 23 NDAA Authorizes 13 Ships, Establishes Naval Review Committee

The House Armed Services Committee approved the annual defense policy bill early Thursday that would authorize the Navy to buy a total of 13 ships. The committee’s version of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would also save five Littoral Combat Ships from decommissioning. During Wednesday’s markup the committee approved an amendment from […]

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) pulls alongside the Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-AO-200) in preparation for a replenishment-at-sea in the South China Sea on Feb. 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee approved the annual defense policy bill early Thursday that would authorize the Navy to buy a total of 13 ships.

The committee’s version of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act would also save five Littoral Combat Ships from decommissioning.

During Wednesday’s markup the committee approved an amendment from Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) that would authorize a $37 billion increase to the policy bill’s topline.

That same amendment also authorizes funds for five more ships – another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, a second Constellation-class frigate, another T-AO-205 John Lewis-class oiler and two Expeditionary Medical Ships. This is in addition to the eight battleforce ships – two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class attack boats, one Constellation-class frigate, one San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, one T-AO-205 John Lewis-class oiler and one T-ATS 6 Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship – the legislation authorizes to meet the Navy’s original FY 2023 request.

Luria’s and Golden’s amendment also authorizes funds to save five Littoral Combat Ships from decommissioning. The Navy’s FY 2023 budget proposal sought to decommission a total of 24 ships, including nine Freedom-class LCSs.

Despite some opposition to the amendment, specifically the effort to save the five LCSs, the panel approved the measure.

“As proposed by the Biden administration, building eight ships and retiring 24 ships does not pace with China’s expansionist policies and places our national security at risk,” HASC seapower and project forces subcommittee ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said in a statement. “This markup reverses a dangerous divest to invest strategy and expands the overall fleet by authorizing 13 ships and allowing 12 vessels to retire.”

The panel approved another amendment offered by Luria that calls for a “National Commission” to assess the entire Navy.

“Rep. Luria’s amendment would establish a commission comprised of Members of Congress and individuals with expertise in Navy policy and strategy, force structure, organization, and design to study the present conditions of the service,” Luria’s office said in a news release about the amendment. “The commission will review the force structure of the Navy, with an emphasis on readiness, training, ship maintenance, ship building, manning, and personnel.”

The amendment stipulates that the commission would have eight members and that the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate armed services committees must choose them within three months of the NDAA becoming law, according to text of the amendment. The measure would also require an evaluation of the funds needed for the Pentagon to recapitalize the nuclear triad and how doing so impacts the Navy’s budget.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) offered an amendment that would “[clarify] Navy peacetime responsibilities as detailed in Title 10,” according to a description of the measure. The HASC approved the amendment.

The legislation will now head to the House floor.

HASC Adopts Amendment for $37B Boost to Defense Topline, Restores 5 Littoral Combat Ships

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment that would authorize a $37 billion increase to the annual policy bill’s topline and save five Littoral Combat Ships from decommissioning. The amendment, proposed by Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.), would authorize $1.2 billion for the Navy to buy another Arleigh Burke-class […]

The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11), front, transits the Tyrrhenian Sea alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on May 16, 2022. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment that would authorize a $37 billion increase to the annual policy bill’s topline and save five Littoral Combat Ships from decommissioning.

The amendment, proposed by Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.), would authorize $1.2 billion for the Navy to buy another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and allow the service to use incremental funding for the purchase. It would also authorize $923.8 million for another Constellation-class frigate, $746 million for another T-AO-205 John Lewis-class oiler and $695 million for two Expeditionary Medical Ships. These ships would be in addition to the eight battleforce ships the panel’s mark already authorizes to meet the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget request.

The HASC’s markup of the FY 2023 policy bill is ongoing as of this posting.

Golden’s and Luria’s amendment also authorizes $660 million for eight F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, despite Navy efforts to end the Boeing fighter line. It authorizes $400 million for the Navy to buy two more E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, $446.2 million for three Navy C-130s, $252.9 for two more Marine Corps KC-130Js, $250 million for two more Marine Corps CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters and $212 million for two V-22 Ospreys.

The amendment also authorizes $318 million in funding to save five of the nine Littoral Combat Ships the Navy sought to decommission in its FY 2023 proposal and another $59 million to save two Expeditionary Transfer Docks. The HASC chairman’s mark notably did not stop the Navy from retiring any of the LCSs.

The potential decommissioning of the Littoral Combat Ships has been a prominent discussion topic throughout debate of the FY 2023 defense spending and policy bills. The Navy’s budget proposal sought to decommission a total of 24 ships in FY 2023, including nine Freedom-class LCSs.

Luria’s and Goldman’s amendment follows the same moves by the Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations defense subcommittee. SASC in its mark of the defense policy bill saved five of the nine LCSs up for decommissioning, as did HAC-D in its mark of the annual defense spending bill.

But some lawmakers opposed saving the LCSs from early decommissioning. During Wednesday’s markup of the HASC chairman’s mark of the FY 2023 policy bill, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) displayed a chart labeling the LCSs as “Leaking Cracked Ships,” as she spoke in opposition to keeping the ships in the fleet.

“We all know what lemon cars are. We have a fleet of lemon LCS ships. We have spent billions of dollars on this fleet when they have no capability to help us deal with [what] our largest threat is, which is that of China and Russia. The only winners have been the contractors on which the Navy relies for sustaining these ships,” Speier said.

Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) departs Naval Station Guantanamo, Jan. 3, 2022. US Navy Photo

“The Freedom-class has been plagued by reliability issues from the start, with numerous power and engine failures, including 10 out of the 11 deployments that the [Government Accountability Office] examined. They’ve got problems with the gears that are faulty. I mean, it goes on and on,” she added.

Listing off problems various Freedom-class hulls have faced, Speier called the ships “a sunk cost” and argued the Navy should not spend millions to keep them in the fleet because they are prone to breaking down.

The Freedom-class ships have faced two significant problems: a class-wide issue with the combining gear that marries the gas turbines to its diesel engines and an inability to field the anti-submarine warfare package for the LCS Mission Module. The Navy earlier this year said it would scrap the ASW package for the LCS due to issues fielding Raytheon’s AN/SQS-62 variable depth sonar (VDS) on the Freedom hull.

HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) similarly spoke in opposition to Golden’s and Luria’s amendment, but praised the package for going after inflation and modernization. The chairman reiterated his argument that the quality of platforms matters more than the quantity of platforms.

“However one feels about the LCS, there have been some arguments that have been made that I just find deeply troubling. One is, ‘well we already bought them, so why would we decommission them?’ Good money after bad is about as cliché as it gets. But it is really important at this point … we have to pay to operate these things,” Smith said.

“And they consistently break down and they consistently have incredibly high maintenance costs,” he added. “So we’re paying money and we’re not getting much in the way of capability. We can save that money, spend it on other things that actually are capable.”

Prior to the amendment’s passage, Smith said he planned to introduce an amendment about the five LCSs on the House floor so the entire chamber could debate the topic.

The Navy’s effort to decommission the LCSs has been fraught, with some lawmakers criticizing plans to retire relatively young ships that have not reached the end of their service lives.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), the ranking member of the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee, told USNI News in an interview this week that while he does not support getting rid of a large number of the LCSs because the class has faced some problems, he thinks the Navy should evaluate potential Foreign Military Sales and how partners or allies could use the ships.

“I do think that those ships have utility both for our Navy and our service branches, but also in ways that could really build United States strategic relationships with other nations,” Wittman said.

Should the U.S. transfer or sell the ships to other countries, Wittman argued there should be a military-to-military relationship between the U.S. and those nations so the U.S. Navy could train those sailors to both use the ships and exercise with them.

“I want to make sure too that we exhaust every possibility for us in our military,” he said.

Wittman pointed to the potential for the U.S. Marine Corps to use the LCS to move Marines around and for the U.S. Coast Guard to use them to perform counter-drug operations in U.S. Southern Command. He said the Coast Guard likely wants more National Security Cutters and the LCS could fulfill that mission set.

“This would be a great opportunity for the Coast Guard to be able to take a ship that has the capability I think that they would need – can move quickly, has the ability to deploy an 11-meter [rigid-hull inflatable boat]. Those are things that fit right within the Coast Guard mission,” Wittman said.

“And the same for the Marines. I mean, the ability to move Marines back and forth – to do tactical support – this ship has some ability to do tactical support for Marines ashore. I think all those things are missions that would fit easily with LCS without any major modifications to it,” he continued. “So I think we need to exhaust all of those possibilities as we go down this road, and then if all of those are exhausted, then we can talk about [Foreign Military Sales]. But FMS does have to be part of the conversation.”

During May testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday floated the potential to transfer the LCSs to other countries.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee in its draft of the FY 2023 spending bill called for a report analyzing other uses for the LCSs and specifically said the Navy could decommission four of the hulls that it could then assess for transfers to other countries.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday marked up and passed its defense spending bill, which met the Biden administration’s request and allotted $762 billion in defense spending.

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) pier-side at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., on Feb. 15, 2022

Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.), a member of HAC whose district includes Naval Station Mayport – where the Freedom-class LCSs are based, – proposed and then withdrew an amendment that would have saved all nine LCSs from decommissioning.

“It is complete financial malpractice, Madam chair, to scrap any of these ships that have barely begun their service life. They’ve barely begun,” he said.

“The average years of service is less than four years, four years. That’s less than one quarter of their expected 25-year lifecycle. Taxpayers have already spent $4.5 billion on building out the LCS class. It is just wasteful to throw away these decades of investment,” Rutherford added.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chairs the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, said Wednesday that she has spoken with the Navy about its proposal for the LCSs.

“The first round of discussions I had with the Navy were very unsatisfactory. And they’re coming around to see the seriousness of us making sure that the taxpayers dollars that have been invested are at a minimum repurposed in a way that helps with our national security,” she said during the markup.

While House appropriators followed the Biden administration’s request, Senate authorizers last week authorized a $45 billion increase to the defense topline.

“I think this $37 billion is a start. I applaud the Senate for their addition of $45 billion,” Luria said Wednesday during the HASC markup.
“I know we have slightly different priorities and throughout this process I hope we will end up with an agreement somewhere north of this $37 [billion]. But I think adding this to the budget at least for me makes this NDAA acceptable in its overall topline.”

HASC on Wednesday also approved a separate amendment proposed by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) to authorize $45 million in research and development funding for the low-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile. The Biden administration sought to cancel the program in the FY 2023 budget proposal, but Congressional authorizers have sought to approve research and development funding for the program. SASC similarly authorized research and development funding for SLCM in its draft of the policy bill.

SWO Boss: Surface Fleet Reforms See Positive Results Five Years After Fatal Collisions

Surface warfare reforms crafted to improve mariner skills and manage demand for ships are trickling into the fleet five years after two fatal collisions in the Western Pacific forced the Navy to retool how the service trains the surface fleet. Multiple investigations and criminal prosecutions found that basic failures in seamanship and ship handling led […]

Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander, Naval Surface Force, speaks with junior officers at the Mariner Skills Training Center, Pacific (MSTCPAC) on May 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

Surface warfare reforms crafted to improve mariner skills and manage demand for ships are trickling into the fleet five years after two fatal collisions in the Western Pacific forced the Navy to retool how the service trains the surface fleet.

Multiple investigations and criminal prosecutions found that basic failures in seamanship and ship handling led to the June 17, 2017, early morning collision between USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan. Seven sailors died.

Two months later, a misunderstanding of a newly installed throttle control system led to USS John McCain (DDG-56) drifting out of a ship separation scheme outside of Singapore and colliding with merchant tanker Alnic MC. Ten sailors died.

Undated photo of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) pier side in Japan shortly after the collision. US Navy Photo

Two subsequent Navy reviews into the fatal collisions – and two other cruiser incidents in 2017 – found systemic problems in basic ship handling and navigation in the surface force, with crews that worked too much and slept too little to meet an unrelenting demand for forces.

The reviews generated a list of more than 100 recommendations for improvements to training and procedures, resulting in a restructuring of the career path for surface warfare officers and a pledge from the Navy to Congress to have a minimum amount of manning aboard surface ships.

Five years following the collision of Fitzgerald and Crystal, the surface community is still working through the recommendations and is to see incremental, but tangible, improvements in the health of the surface force, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Naval Surface Forces commander, told USNI News this week.

“We remain on a positive trajectory. I do believe that, based on some good evidence, that maritime skills competency has definitely improved,” Kitchener said.

On Shore

Students in the Littoral Combat Ship Officer of the Deck course at the Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS), practice pierwork in a USS Independence (LCS-2) class simulator in 2020. US Navy Photo

The reforms following the 2017 collisions follow two decades of shortened training for sailors and the surface force skipping maintenance during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2003, the same year the U.S. invaded Iraq, the Navy cut the 16-week training at Surface Warfare Officer’s School and relied on new ensigns squeezing in training via CD-ROMs between schedules to learn the mariner skills. In 2012, the Navy restored an eight-week SWOS course.

Early recommendations from the investigation, partially based on the failures of the bridge crews on Fitzgerald to adhere to the basic rules of the road, called for the Navy to beef up early training for new ensigns and expand SWOS.

That included two officer of the deck (OOD) training periods that teach junior officers to run the bridge using high-fidelity simulators.

In 2019, the Navy required all new surface warfare officers following their first schoolhouse – the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) – to complete an officer of the deck course. The course grew from four weeks to six last year. New SWOs have 772 hours of simulator training to learn basic mariner skills. The time is double the previous requirement, Kitchener said. SWOs take a second OOD assessment following their first division officer tour to gauge their knowledge of maritime rules of the road.

“These structured courses, individual courses like OOD phase one and two, coupled with fleet … training, where you bring a ship team over and they train on the waterfront and evolutions with the quartermasters and everybody in the full mission bridge, that’s reinforcing all that individual training,” Kitchener said.
“I’m pretty confident to say that our division officer scores have gone up.”

Students at Surface Warfare Officers School (SWOS) train on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Full Mission Bridge (FMB) simulator in 2016. US Navy Photo

The assessments are part of a larger reform to the SWO career path instituted in 2018 under previous SWO Boss retired Vice Adm. Richard Brown that created ten pass-or-fail assessments throughout a surface officer’s career up to when they take command of a ship.

“There was a significant investment in trainers to give everybody the tools to train. It’s not only improved, I think JO ship handling, but their ability to use some of the tools on the ship … the different radars,” he said.
“By adding in the rigor where we have the assessments, we have 10 of them, and there are four no-gos built into it. If you don’t pass, you don’t go to the next wicket. That’s provided that rigor, certainly we’ve seen some attrition there.”

Last year, the GAO found that while the improvements have helped, officers leave the service at a higher rate than aviators or submariners.

“SWOs had shorter average careers and higher separation rates compared with officers in similar U.S. Navy communities, despite the U.S. Navy’s investments in SWO training,” reads the report.

At Sea

Ensign Sofia Bliek, from Vernon, Conn., on Feb. 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

As investigators looked at the collisions’ underlying causes, the Navy found that there were manning gaps and degraded equipment on many ships deployed to the Pacific.

Following the collisions, the Navy guaranteed Congress that only combat-ready ships would deploy.

“What does a combat-ready ship mean? That means ships deploy and leave no redundancy at the pier, that everything works on that ship the moment they deploy,” then-SWO Boss Brown told USNI News in 2019.
“We’re going to deploy our ships fully certified, fully manned at 92/95 (fit/fill).”

Maintaining the Navy’s measure for making sure qualified sailors are installed on the right jobs, known as fit, and that there are enough crew aboard, known as fill, has been a struggle for the service.

To meet the demand, the service pulls the sailors with the Navy Enlisted Classifications (NECs) it needs from ships in maintenance and other non-deployed duty stations.

“We are doing it, it remains a challenge, it remains a little bit of a friction point because I worry about ships, taking that manpower off in the maintenance phase, particularly critical NECs,” Kitchener said.

Quartermaster 2nd Class, from Corpus Christi, Texas, shoots a sunline with a sextant to take a bearing from the bridgewing aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) while conducting routine underway operations on Jan. 30, 2022. US Navy Photo

In Fiscal Year 2020, the Navy moved 1,760 sailors for temporary additional duty (TEMADD) to fill gaps in critical NECs on deploying ships, Kitchener said in January.

To blunt the effects, SURFOR last year launched the data-driven crewing model Surface Manning Experience (SURFMEX) that tracked six critical NECs – sonar technician, Aegis fire controlman, gas turbine system technician (electrical and mechanical), quartermaster and engineman – to prevent churn in ship manning, according to Seapower.

The SURMEX program was showing good early results but “we remain challenged with our TEMADDs and it puts a strain on our sailors,” Kitchener said.
“We’re looking at doing some other pilots [to try] to reduce TEMADDs, looking at other ways we can man.”

One pilot program will remove the crew from a destroyer during its maintenance phase while training on shore until the ship is ready for training ahead of deployments.

Maintaining the 92/95 crewing standard “still remains a strain on the force because of that tax we pay on ships in the maintenance phase,” he said.

Culture

Ens. Hazel Acosta, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105), observes the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65), while standing conning officer during Visual Information (VI) drills between the two ships. U.S. Navy Photo

Perhaps the trickiest issue that faced the service is solving the underlying “zero-defect” culture problem that creates officers who shun risk and is quick to punish minor mistakes.

“I don’t think there is a zero-defect mentality. In our force today. Most of the time, when we’re relieving people, it’s usually for toxic leadership issues, things like that, not necessarily competency, and we’re learning from the mistakes,” Kitchener said.

Since the collisions, the surface fleet has adopted parts of naval aviation’s debriefing methodology that encourages critical assessment in debriefs to identify mistakes, Kitchener said.

“You pre-brief, brief and then afterward you do a debrief and we’ve been collecting data on that since the collisions. It’s pretty good. It gets bigger every year, the critiques that we do and that open discussion, so I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.
“The other way we try to get at culture is trying to increase that transparency and trust. That again is being able to discuss things that have gone wrong and how do we overcome that?”

Key to the culture change is predicting problems before they happen. Kitchener has touted his command’s use of data from across the command to create a better understanding of readiness in ships and personnel.

Ens. Stephen Hess uses a telescopic alidade in the pilot house of the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS San Jacinto (CG-56), as it transits behind USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in the Adriatic Sea on June 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

“We’ve driven it towards being a learning organization where previously we weren’t necessarily. We were kind of reactive, and now we’re trying to be more proactive. I would tell you, we’re not completely there,” he said.

Key for Kitchener is to keep the reform momentum to build on the incremental successes.

“Vigilance remains the term. We’ve learned a lot, we’ve invested a lot and we just got to keep it all moving forward,” he said.
“We’ve all got to be making sure that we’re following the rules and the procedures we put in place. And I think for the most part, we’re doing better at that oversight role than we were back in 2017.”