Norfolk-Based Destroyer Stout Deemed Unfit, Triggering Fleet Review

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Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
April 26, 2008 By Dale Eisman and Louis Hansen, The Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK--The Navy will review maintenance and training across the surface fleet after a recent inspection found the Norfolk-based destroyer Stout unfit for sustained combat, a top admiral said Friday.
Three months after the ship returned from a deployment to the Horn of Africa, inspectors found inoperable missile and close-in weapon systems, an unsafe flight deck and widespread corrosion.
Rear Adm. Kevin Quinn, commander of the naval surface force, said the surface fleet will investigate whether the problems are widespread across all ship classes or limited to individual ships.
A second ship, the Hawaii-based cruiser Chosin, also failed inspection.
Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain, said he was struck by the scope of the problems found on both ships. He said he came away from the reports wondering if "we've started to lose the ability to collectively assess ourselves."
Van Tol, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, served as skipper of three surface ships. He took command of the big deck amphibious ship Essex in August 2003, and he said he found many of the same kinds of problems detailed in the Chosin and Stout reports.
He wonders if the Navy is paying a price for a decision some years back to eliminate an advanced "Senior Officer Ship Maintenance and Repair Course."
The course focused on nuts-and-bolts engineering in more depth than other schools for future commanders. Without that intense training, there's a question of "how future COs learn how to do self-inspections," he suggested.
Norman Polmar, a naval analyst and author, said reduced crew sizes could lead to maintenance problems in the fleet. An Arleigh Burke destroyer has a crew of about 300 sailors. The next generation of the warship, called the DDX, is expected to have fewer than half that number.
"We're reaching a point where we can't maintain the systems we have with the policies and structures we have," he said.
Quinn said the Navy will review the training sailors receive to identify and conduct preventive maintenance. The so-called "self-assessment" programs are designed to teach sailors to better evaluate the condition of their ship.
The Stout and the Chosin failed inspections performed by the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey board, known as InSurv. The results were first reported by Navy Times.
The inspectors, supervised by a Navy captain, conduct lengthy tests and reviews of every system aboard a ship, from weapons to engines to food service. Each system is assigned a grade: satisfactory, degraded or unsatisfactory.
Ships typically undergo the scrutiny every five years. Last year, Navy inspectors visited 56 ships, and four received failing grades.
Navy inspectors visited the Stout from March 10-14 at Norfolk Naval Station. Just three months removed from deployment, inspectors found the ship lacking key systems - weapons, safety equipment and propulsion - needed for a sustained combat deployment.
The Stout was unable to reach top speed in its sea testing. Most of its missiles could not be fired because of a fuel leak. The sophisticated Aegis weapons systems, designed to protect ships from hostile missile attacks, was hobbled by faulty radar.
The inspection report recommended the destroyer suspend flight operations until the flight deck nets, hardware and lights were repaired. The other flaws spotted included missing safety gear, a broken close-in weapons system, widespread lube leaks and corrosion.
In a private meeting Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, the ranking member of the House military readiness subcommittee, discussed the reports with Quinn and several other Navy officials.
Forbes said the members were told the Navy does not believe that problems on these ships were result of weaknesses in their leadership. "There was no indication that it was the commanders' fault," he said.
The briefer indicated that many of the problems could not have been detected "unless they had this kind of high-intensity inspection," he said. Navy leaders also told the panel the issues did not result from a lack of funding.
Quinn said he was surprised by the results of the Stout inspection. The ship had returned from a successful deployment to the Horn of Africa in December, and the strike group had no complaints about the ship's performance, he said.
The crew had identified many of the problems before the InSurv, Quinn said. Some repairs may have been delayed - and put the ship in a poor position for a comprehensive review - because the crew knew they were headed to the shipyard, he said.
The Navy has not determined whether to take any disciplinary action, he said.
The Stout is in local shipyard BAE for three months on a previously scheduled repair availability. The crew had identified $3 million in work. Items identified in the report will add another $500,000 to the total.
The Stout was built by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi and commissioned in 1994.
Quinn said the repairs will not alter deployment schedules for other surface ships.