Chairman Courtney’s Opening Remarks for House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces Hearing, “Update on Navy and Marine Corps Readiness in the Pacific in the Aftermath of Recent Mishaps”
Good Afternoon, today’s joint subcommittee hearing is the fifth in a continuation of joint subcommittee oversight since 2017 that have specifically examined maritime mishaps in the Pacific and the underlying systemic readiness issues that were a major contributory cause of those catastrophic events. Since the gut-wrenching losses of seventeen sailors from the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain in June 2017, these subcommittees have been the public forum to review and act on the Navy’s Comprehensive Review (CR), Strategic Readiness Review (SRR), and Government Affairs Office (GAO) studies on the manning, training, and operational shortcomings.
As the USS Fitzgerald returns to sea this week for the first time since the collisions, today’s hearing is an opportunity for the Navy to provide an update to Congress, and the nation, on how they have addressed those issues – and how they have implemented the reforms needed to prevent them from happening again.
Today’s hearing also follows a tragic Marine Corps Aviation mishap. This 2018 accident, in which an F/A-18 Hornet and KC-130 Hercules collided in mid-air, has striking similarities to an earlier collision between aircraft in the same two squadrons. Like the ship collisions in 2017, which exposed serious shortfalls in certifications of key operational training in navigation, seamanship, and engineering, this incident has revealed inadequate flight hours, nighttime training, and equipment maintenance that were, at a minimum, contributory causes of the mid-air collision.
This most recent mishap killed five of six of the aircrewman involved and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these Marines, just as they remain with the families of the seventeen sailors killed in 2017.
I know that our sailors and Marines forward-deployed to Japan represent some of our best and brightest. Each of us recognize the role these men and women play in being the “tip of the spear” in one of the most active regions in the world. These men and women in uniform deal with longer hours, less time at home, higher operational tempos, and complex multinational strategies.
Therefore, it is imperative that the both the Navy and Marine Corps get this right and balance these higher operational desires with requisite readiness needs. The services owe deep analysis and critical examination of their readiness issues – whether it be in training, maintenance, or proficiency. And Congress owes diligent and persistent oversight.
The Navy has recognized it is challenged by widespread institutional readiness issues and is now proactive towards accepting responsibility and executing solutions at all leadership levels. They have established new governing bodies and have made notable progress in correcting nearly 100 issues identified by the Comprehensive Review, the Strategic Readiness Review, and multiple GAO reports. These corrections aren’t superficial. They represent large systematic and deep programmatic changes across manning, training, budgeting, and operations. While I look forward to the Navy’s update today on its progress, I am also encouraged by the Marine Corps’ appointment of a independent Consolidated Disposition Authority that will have broad authority in investigating command climate, training, and material readiness. As the Marine Corps grapples with these complex problems, I urge them to learn from both the Navy’s initial incidences and subsequent actions.
Both these readiness reforms and Congress’s oversight are iterative processes. It is my sincere hope that through continued oversight, further hearings, and robust dialogue with the services, we can further eliminate these readiness difficulties ensuring our service members come home safely.
I would now like to welcome our distinguished panelists:
Vice Admiral Richard A. Brown
Naval Surface Forces
U.S. Pacific Fleet
Lieutenant General Steven R. Rudder, USMC
Deputy Commandant for Aviation
United States Marine Headquarters
Before hearing from this panel, let me offer Ranking Member Wittman an opportunity to make any opening remarks.