Naval Surface Group Western Pacific was stood up Tuesday, a day before the Navy released scathing reports showing that crew shortcomings were to blame for fatal collisions aboard the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain this summer, disasters that killed 17 sailors and pushed the Navy into a service-wide reassessment.
The interim detachment will have authority to determine if a ship is ready for operations, or if it requires “remedial training,” according to Naval Surfaces Forces.
Seventh Fleet will assign ships to the detachment during maintenance availability and follow-on training, with the detachment readying those ships for operations, according to the command.
A myriad of threats in 7th Fleet’s West Pacific waters, from North Korean missiles to an ascendant Chinese navy, have led to a harried operational tempo leaving crews and vessels with less time for training and maintenance than ships based in the U.S.
Government watchdogs have warned of such threats for years, and Navy leadership has assessed the shortcomings with renewed urgency after the Fitz and McCain incidents.
Adm. Scott Swift, Pacific Fleet commander, said in a statement that the detachment was created to address an organizational gap “that allowed a culture to grow myopically focused on operations to the detriment of readiness.”
The detachment, he said, “will consolidate authorities to oversee the training and certification of surface ships forward deployed to Japan.”
The detachment will be the initial fleet commander representative until a permanent Naval Surface Forces group is established.
It will report to Swift and will eventually fall under Naval Surfaces Forces commander Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, according to the command.
“(The detachment) will be my eyes and ears on the ground here in the Western Pacific,” Rowden said in a release. “Not only to consider the operations we have to execute, but also to ensure we understand how we are going to properly generate the readiness we need.”
A post major command captain will lead the new unit, with Capt. Rich Dromerhauser serving as the organization’s first commodore.
“I am here to protect the most precious resource we have – time,” he said in a Navy release. “Time for the maintenance and modernization of our systems and time for the focused training that builds the confidence and competence to fight and win at sea.”
Though funded for more than two years, the LREW project had escaped notice in an obscure budget line item for an OSD account named “emerging capabilities technology development”, which is mostly reserved for small electronic warfare projects.
But the programme offers the first indication that the US military is interested in a new missile to replace or surpass the capabilities of the Raytheon AIM-120D AMRAAM.
An unclassified concept image of the LREW was published last April in a presentation by Chuck Perkins, the principal deputy to the assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering.
The image in Perkins’ presentation may not reflect the classified version of the LREW concept, but depicts a large, two-stage missile launched from an internal weapons bay of a Lockheed Martin F-22.
The LREW also emerges as Chinese and Russian militaries reportedly are pursuing new air intercept missiles with ranges significantly longer than the AIM-120D. The range of the AIM-120D is classified, but is thought to extend to about 100mi (160km).
The US Air Force also is developing two short-range weapons – the small advanced capabilities missile (SACM) and the miniature self-defence munition (MSDM).
AIM-120D >180 km so can be 200 - 220 easy
The man nominated to be the next Army secretary faced questions on a range of topics during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing Thursday, but perhaps most importantly, he heard a clear warning: Don’t waste billions on major projects that go nowhere.
Mark Esper is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, West Point graduate and Gulf War veteran who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense under former President George W. Bush.
Esper most recently spent the past seven years working for defense contractor Raytheon, overseeing its lobbying in Washington, D.C.
In his opening questions, SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said the committee was frustrated with failed major weapons systems that cost taxpayers billions.
“For example, over the last 10 years or so we have wasted about $40 billion on programs like the Future Combat Systems, the Comanche Attack Helicopter, the Crusader Howitzer, the Joint Tactical Radio System and the Distributed Common Ground System Army,” the senator said.
McCain also brought up the $6 billion failure of the Warfighter Information Network Tactical, known as WIN-T.
“Let me just tell you now, that is not acceptable to the taxpayers of America,” McCain said. “We do not want any more of these failures. You lose credibility with the American people when a program has to be cancelled that cost the taxpayers over $6 billion. We just can’t keep wasting billions of dollars like this. We just can’t.”
Esper agreed, telling committee members that minor fixes are insufficient, and that the requirements and acquisitions process needs a total overhaul to avoid those types of mistakes.
“You need to take a holistic approach that looks at processes, programs and people and policies,” Esper said.
He also pushed for more to be done on defining Army requirements at the beginning of the process and holding people and organizations accountable throughout the development and acquisition.
McCain then went on to ask Esper if the Army was ready to fight combined arms maneuver warfare against a near-peer competitor.
“I think with only one third of the brigade combat teams and 25 percent of the combat aviation brigades ready, engaging in such a conflict would be a significant risk,” Esper said.
He went on to say that he wanted to push more quickly toward a sustained readiness goal of having 66 percent of the force in a combat-ready status. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley previously estimated it would take the Army until 2023 to reach that goal.
In addition to major acquisition programs, Esper’s confirmation hearing also drilled down on smaller programs such as replacing the M16/M4 service rifle.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, asked Esper if he would encourage competition and look at commercial sources for the rifle replacement.
Esper said he saw competition and commercial options as crucial to finding the best weapon available. He added that he would do the same with as many programs as he could.
The nominee’s recent work in the defense industry did not go unnoticed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who asked that Esper commit to the White House policy of recusing himself from dealings relate to his previous employer for two years, rather than the previously stated one-year pledge.
Esper agreed to do that.
Warren then queried him on what recent programs he’d been involved with lobbying the government on behalf of Raytheon.
Esper said that as vice president of government relations, he managed all Raytheon lobbying efforts but was personally involved with the Patriot Radar System, the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile System Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, and the Distributed Army Common Ground System.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, asked what Esper would do to capitalize on private sector innovation, especially with autonomy and robotics.
Esper said work with robotics, drones and other automated technologies would be looked at across the board.
A former infantry officer, Esper said he envisioned ground convoys at some point being conducted autonomously to avoid risks to soldiers such as the Army saw in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Esper, who was nominated in July, is the third nominee for Army secretary. President Trump’s first pick, West Point grad Vincent Viola, withdrew his name in February, citing the strict Defense Department rules concerning his family businesses.
In May, Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green withdrew his name from consideration after what he called “false and misleading attacks” concerning his past comments on gay rights and evolution.
Army undersecretary Ryan McCarthy has been serving as acting secretary.