August 4, 2021 | Mark Paradies

Navigation & Piloting Training Corrective Actions – Are They Enough?

Picture from US Navy

Blame Oriented Investigation Includes Training Corrective Actions

Four years ago the Navy had two fatal ship collisions and the investigations included discipline for the ship’s Commanding Officers and other watchstanders. See these articles for more information:

Here is part of my response to the last article above:

That’s why I doubt there will be a real root cause analysis of these accidents. If there is, it will require immediate reductions in operation tempo until new training programs are implemented, new ships can be built, and manning can be increased to support the new ships (and our current ships). How long will this take? Five to 10 years at best. Of course, it has taken over 20 years for the problem to get this bad (it started slowly in the late 80s). President Trump says he wants to rebuild the military – this is his chance to do something about that.

Now, according to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Navy has taken the first step in the corrective action that I mentioned above. They have implemented a new training regimen for surface warfare officers.

The article says:

Former senior Navy officials have said their warnings about poor maintenance, shoddy technology and a relentless pace of ship deployments went unheeded for years before the 2017 collisions of the guided-missile destroyers Fitzgerald and McCain with container ships, just weeks apart. 

And another article from 2019 explained the considerable warnings that were given to top brass.

Are Training Corrective Actions Enough?

Now here is the question. Are training corrective actions enough?

  • What about the human factors issues?
  • What about the poor maintenance/material condition?
  • What about the overwork and relentless pace of deployments resulting in fatigue?
  • What about the previously blame-oriented investigations?

I would really like a complete response from the Navy about their corrective actions.

I would also like to see an apology to the Commanding Officers and crew that were blamed for the accidents when the true root causes were beyond their control but within the control of senior officers, congress, and the President.

What do you think? Is training enough? Or should the Navy own up to the previous lack of support for the ships and their crews?

Here is a quote from another article:

Adm. John Richardson, head of the Navy, called the two collisions “avoidable tragedies.” The ships’ commanders and their superiors, he said in a written statement to ProPublica, were responsible for the results.

“The tragedies of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain reminded us that all commanders, from the unit level to the fleet commander, must constantly assess and manage risks and opportunities in a very complex and dynamic environment,” Richardson said. “But at the end of the day, our commanders make decisions and our sailors execute and there is an outcome — a result of that decision. The commander ‘owns’ that outcome.”

Sidelined during years of land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy is now strategically central to containing North Korea’s nuclear threat, China’s expansionist aims and a newly aggressive Russia.

Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin was commander of the 7th Fleet at the time of the collisions. A Naval aviator who fought in the Balkans and Iraq, he made repeated pleas to his superiors for more men, more ships, more time to train. He was ignored, then fired.

More than 18 months later, Aucoin believes that the Navy has yet to disclose the full story of the disasters. Navy leaders, he said in his first extended interview, have not taken accountability for their role in undermining America’s sea fighting ability.

“I just want the truth to come out,” Aucoin said.

Learn to Find Root Causes and Avoid Blame

If you would like to learn more about how to eliminate blame from incident investigations, find the true root causes of problems, and develop effective, complete corrective actions, you should attend a TapRooT® Root Cause Analysis Course.

For more information, CLICK HERE.

And for even more about human factors and stopping human error, attend the virtual Stopping Human Error Course on October 26-27, 2021.

Accidents, Human Performance, Investigations, Root Cause Analysis
Show Comments

5 Replies to “Navigation & Piloting Training Corrective Actions – Are They Enough?”

  • Mark Paradies says:

    Here’s another question … How long will it take to get the backlog of current junior officers (O-1 – O-3) through the training.

    How will the training of more senior officers (O-4 – O-5) be upgraded?

    How can the center process new junior officers while the current junior officers are being trained?

    • John Wilshusen says:

      The likely answer is that it won’t. The Navy has a significant challenge — after years of making tours shorter and moving Junior officers around to give them broad exposure (notice that says nothing about depth of knowledge), those junior officers are now the people who are doing the instructing. The dilemma is, how can you properly instruct something you don’t have the experience for? When I was in my division officer years, I had nearly 4 continuous years on the same ship standing deck watches. Then I got another 18 months on a different ship as the operations officer. Following a two year shore assignment I had another 40 months as a department head at sea, most of the time underway. When I became a CO, responsible for training my junior officers, i discovered I had more months of time at sea underway than all my department heads combined. The reason? Because division officer tours had been shortened to 36 months, shore tours lengthened, and we did away with the surface warfare division officer schoolhouse in favor of electronic training courses and OJT. It wasn’t that I had bad department heads, just very inexperienced ones. They went on to be selected for CO positions, arriving there with (on average) about half the total seagoing days as I had taking when I stepped into the job. Compound that with aging ships and the piling on of supposedly helpful but inadequately integrated technology that comes with poor technical documentation and even poorer user training, and I don’t find it surprising at all that we had fatal collisions. Truth be told, the only thing that really surprises me is that we haven’t mangled more ships than we have so far. None of this is a waterfront secret, even up in the flag officer levels. Fixing it, on the other hand, is a whole different story, requiring time, money, and most of all, the guts to be brutally self-honest about where we are and what it will take to get where we want to be. Sadly, all three seem to be in short supply.

  • Owen Martn says:

    Our ships are highly maneuverable, fast and capable. Radar and plots can easily be used to ID other ships around them and to take action to avoid collisions. The McCain impact diagram shows that they’d have the right of way, but that is absolutely no excuse for not changing course well in advance. Training is good but competency is key. And some God given talent for spacial orientation helps too. An issue to address for certain is the minimum manned crew concept. It needs to go. A lean crew has no redundancy and may frequently have to rely on sailors who are less competent, less rested and less trained. Address minimum manning as a root cause and we’ll get the fleet into better shape. V/r former SWO from Pac Fleet

  • Will Kramer says:

    Neither the McCain nor the Fitzgerald were minimum manned ships like the LCS or DDG1000 and I have seen no indication that larger watchteams would have much influence on what happened. The two collisions are often lumped together, probably due to timing but when examined in depth have starkly different circumstances.
    I judged the McCain collision to have been largely caused by a loss of steering casualty. That loss of steering came from a mix of improperly documented equipment installation with not fully trained personnel in an area where a new user interface and associated control system was NOT needed.
    The Fitzgerald collision is much more troubling to me as a SWO and as a Naval Officer because in the end, two major watch stations, each with teams of watchstanders failed to see the danger as it developed. How an experienced OOD on the bridge and a qualified Department Head TAO in CIC could so completely fail to perform their most basic duties is an indictment of the qual processes that both of them went through along with an indictment of the supervision and guidance given to them during their careers. Open sources have related that there was personal animus between them and unless this was close held/private then the judgement of the ships leadership in pairing them on the watch team is questionable as well.

    Bottom Line: While I am appalled at the mess that has been made of junior SWO training, the necessities of CIC speaking and coordinating with the bridge on contacts along with lookouts and the bridge team actually looking for danger are Kindergarten level things that should not even need advanced training to understand.

    • Mark Paradies says:

      Hi Will,

      Interested in more of the details of both collisions?

      Fatigue played a big part in both and manning has a lot to do with fatigue.

      The helmsman on the McCain was from another identical ship (that wasn’t identical) and thought he knew how to operate the electronic helm and engine order telegraph but … didn’t. The reason he was there – undermanning.

      Fitgerald – broken radars that weren’t maintained. No support for repairs, no time for repairs, and undermanning.

      Training … what a mess. How do you do on-board training when you are constantly underway and barely have semi-qualified people to cover the watch bill.

      The stories are horrible.

      We will have Vice Admiral Aucoin (at that time Commander of the 7th Fleet) to tell more about what was wrong and who had been warned.

      When the top brass and the politicians ask too much, you run the risk that things will go wrong … and they did.

      Best Regards,


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