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Series of Navy ship crashes raises serious concerns

The Republic of Singapore Navy's RSS Brave, right, sails off from the Tuas naval base on a search and rescue mission for the USS John S. McCain's missing sailors on Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, in Singapore. Aircraft and ships from the navies of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia are searching seas east of Singapore where the collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker happened early Monday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

There are new concerns about the United States Navy readiness after two Navy destroyers crashed with merchants ships in the Pacific Ocean.

Last week, the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore, killing 10 sailors. Two months earlier, the USS Fitzgerald crashed with a container ship off the coast of Japan, leaving seven dead.

This year, there have been four major navy ship accidents involving the 7th Fleet in the Pacific, which operates in one of the most congested waterways in the world.

“Three collisions and one grounding in the past year is a big SOS, or red warning flag that something is wrong and needs to be fixed,” said MacKenzie Eaglen, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

After the McCain collision, the Navy ordered a one-day pause in operations around the world to review the safety of ships. The Navy concluded that the Fitzgerald and McCain crashes were “avoidable”.

“I think there's a big problem in the US Navy and in the pacific command area of responsibility,” said Eaglen. “There are Navy ships operating all over the world that aren’t having as many accidents and difficulties as in the Pacific Command.”

Destroyers are fast, agile, equipped with better capabilities and radar, and maneuverable.

“It’s pretty much a catastrophic failure of the navigation teams and total lack of seamanship,” said Admiral Terry McKnight, a former Navy Commander.

Analysts believe part of the issues stem from inadequate training and budget problems. Congress has not passed a budget in years; making it more difficult for the Navy and Pentagon to plan ahead for resources.

A May 2015 Government Accountability Office report warned that out-of-service equipment had doubled over the past five years.

Former Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), now a fellow at the Naval War College, says the Navy is falling behind at keeping crews safe.

“We know that we have 20 percent less ships than we did in 2000, but yet we are doing the same amount of deployments, you can't possibly do the same amount of training you need to do and have some degree of readiness,” said Forbes.

And the accidents come amid rising tensions with North Korea. On Monday, Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan. There are also increased tensions with China, as its military tightens its claim on territory in the South China Sea.

Admiral Terry McKnight believes losing the destroyers leaves the defense missile capabilities in the region vulnerable.

“There’s only one force in the world that can go toe-to-toe with China and that’s the United States Navy, if we don’t have the forces out there than it definitely creates a gap.”

The House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing when Congress returns from recess on the recent crashes and Navy’s readiness.

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