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"The fact is that we have reached such a low level of funding it will soon be impossible to meet the expectations of this nation in executing our operational tasks and completing the mission." Vice Admiral John Nathman
Navy Orders Complete Standdown
All Ships, Subs Ordered To Complete 24-Hour Safety Review Follows Six Accidents In Past Year Involving Naval Vessels Top Admiral Says Lack Of Funding Has Hurt Ship Safety
THE PENTAGON, Sept. 15, 2000 CBS (CBS) For the first time in more than a decade, every ship and submarine in the United States Navy was ordered Friday to stand down and review safety and navigation procedures.
The order required all 300 ships in the fleet to take one full day to review safety and navigation procedures. Ship commanders were to conduct the safety review as soon as possible but not at a time that interferes with mission requirements.
The order, issued Thursday by Adm. Vernon Clark, the newly installed chief of Naval operations, requires crews of all shipsincluding submarinesto "thoroughly assess the critical areas of seamanship and navigation" before resuming normal operations, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cate Mueller said.
It is the first fleet-wide safety standdown since 1989, when all Navy aircraft as well as ships were ordered to take a two-day safety pause, she said.
CBS National Security Correspondent David Martin reports the 24-hour standdown comes after a series of accidents involving Naval vessels in the past year.
In the past 12 months, Navy ships have suffered six collisions or groundings.
Trouble At Sea Major Naval accidents in the past year:
October 20, 1999 Ship: Underwood Where: Alexandria, Egypt Damaged by grounding
February 16, 2000 Ship: Shreveport Where: Suez Canal Ship grounded after loss of power and steering control.
February 27, 2000 Ship: Yukon Where: Persian Gulf Ship collided with civilian vessel
July 13, 2000 Ships: Denver and Yukon Where: Hawaiian operating area Ships collided during rendezvous
August 27, 2000 Ships: Detroit and Nicholson Where: Virginia capes Ships collided at sea
Sept. 12, 2000 Ship: La Moure County Where: South Pacific Ran aground (Source: U.S. Navy)
On Tuesday, the USS La Moure County, a tank transport ship, struck a reef in the waters off Chile while conducting a tank-landing operation. It may have to be scrapped.
In July, another amphibious ship collided with a Navy vessel.
It's impossible to pinpoint a single cause for these accidents, but they have occurred at a time when Navy admirals are becoming increasingly vocal about being asked to do too much with too little money.
The latest, Vice Admiral John Nathman, commander of Naval air forces in the Pacific, said, "The fact is we have reached such a low level of funding it will soon be impossible to meet the expectations of this nation in executing our operational tasks and completing the mission."
The standdown occurs at a time when the readiness of America's armed forces is being questioned on the campaign trail.
Nathman's statement became instant ammunition for Texas Governor George Bush, who quoted the admiral Friday as further evidence of declining military readiness.
Earlier, a report by the Navy's inspector general found that funding shortages are hurting the combat performance of Naval aviators.
Readiness has been declining, but most Pentagon officials say it is still at acceptable levels.
The Defense Dept. said in August that most U.S. combat forces are ready to perform wartime missions, but would have a hard time fighting two major wars at once, as U.S. military doctrine requires.
But the way America's combat forces maintain their readiness sometimes illustrates how thin the margin for error is.
The carrier USS Lincoln, for example, is en route to the Persian Gulf with two fighter squadrons rated less than fully combat ready because bad weather has wiped out a number of flying days.
With good weather, Navy officials say, the pilots will get back up to speed and the Lincoln will enter the Persian Gulf ready for combat. But that means that fliers heading into an increasingly tense region are dependent on weather for crucial flying time.
Money Matters Comparing the Navy's budget, this year and next:
Operation and Maintenance 2001: $23.4 billion 2000: $22.1 billion
Shipbuilding and Conversion 2001: $11.6 billion 2000: $7 billion
Aircraft Procurement 2001: $8.4 billion 2000: $8.9 billion
Weapons Procurement 2001: $1.4 billion 2000: $1.3 billion
Other Procurement 2001: $3.5 billion 2000: $4.1 billion
In addition to the questions about Navy fliers' readiness, there has been trouble with Marine helicopters and Army aircraft this year as well.
Some have put the blame for deteriorating readiness on shrinking defense budgets. Until increasing slightly for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, U.S. defense spending was cut for 14 straight years.
President Clinton's Fiscal Year 2001 defense budget called for $277.5 billion, an increase of 1 percent over the previous year, according to the Defense Department. Congress passed a $288 billion plan.
According to the Center for Defense Information, a private think-tank, America's share of global military spending increased from 30 percent to 33 percent from 1985-1996, even though total worldwide spending on defense dropped from $1.6 trillion to $797 billion in that time.
A total of 95 Navy personnel have died so far this year, 14 in aviation accidents, three in accidents afloat, but none in the six major accidents that prompted the standdown. Last year there were 104 deaths, four of them at sea.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 15, 2000
We are wrecking our own ships and the Russians are sinking their own submerines. Someone should write a movie about this, but nobody would have believed it 10 years ago.
-- K (email@example.com), September 15, 2000.