USS Fitzgerald & USS John S McCain Collisions: Response to Feedback from a Reader
Here is an e-mail I received in response to my recent articles about the Navy’s collision root cause analysis:
As a former naval officer (and one who has navigated the infamous Strait of Malacca as Officer of the Deck on a warship bridge twice), I read your post with interest and wanted to respond. You understandably criticize the Navy for taking disciplinary action early on in the investigation process, but you fail to understand the full scope of the military’s response to such incidents. Yes, punishment was swift – right or wrong from a civilian perspective, that’s how the military holds its leaders accountable. And make no mistake: The leadership of USS Fitzgerald is ultimately responsible and accountable for this tragedy. (Same goes for the most recent collision involving USS John S. McCain, which also led to the ‘firing’ of the Commander of the 7th Fleet – a Vice Admiral nonetheless.) That’s just how the military is, was, and always will be, because its disciplinary system is rooted in (and necessary for) war fighting.
But don’t confuse accountability with cause. No one in the Navy believes that relieving these sailors is the solution to the problem of at-sea collisions and therefore the ONLY cause. I won’t speculate on causal factors, but I’m confident they will delve into training, seamanship, communications, over-reliance on technology and many other factors that could’ve been at work in these incidents. It’s inaccurate and premature for anyone outside the investigation team to charge that the Navy’s root cause analysis began and ended with disciplinary actions. How effective the final corrective actions are in preventing similar tragedies at-sea in the future will be the real measure of how effective their investigation and root cause analysis are, whether they use TapRooT, Apollo (my company uses both) or any other methodology.
I appreciate his feedback but I believe that many may be misunderstanding what I wrote and why I wrote it. Therefore, here is my response to his e-mail:
Thanks for your response. What I am going to say in response may seem pretty harsh but I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at those responsible for not taking action a decade ago to prevent these accidents today.
I’m also a previously qualified SWO who has been an OOD in some pretty tight quarters. The real question is … Why haven’t they solved this problem with prior accidents. The root causes of these collisions have existed for years (some might say over a decade or maybe two). Yet the fixes to prior accidents were superficial and DISCIPLINE was the main corrective action. This proves the Navy’s root cause analysis is inadequate in the past and, I fear, just as inadequate today.
The TapRooT® Folks
I’m not against the Navy or the military. I support our troops. I am against the needless loss of life. We need to fix this problem before we have a real naval battle (warfare at sea) and suffer unnecessary losses because of our lack of preparedness. If we can’t sail our ships we will have real problems fighting with them.