- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The spate of mid-sea accidents and collisions that plagued the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet earlier this year and triggered a worldwide suspension of all Navy operations is the result of an overstretched sea service struggling to cope with an increased focus in Asia, Chinese military analysts say.

Navy leaders in August fired the captain of the USS Fitzgerald and disciplined several of the ship’s senior officers after the warship collided with a Philippine-flagged shipping vessel near the Japanese coast in June.

The accident prompted a two-day suspension of all Navy operations, and was the second mid-sea collision in two months between American warships attached to Navy’s Seventh Fleet and commercial vessels traversing the international waters in the south Pacific.

The Pentagon’s decision to ramp up Navy operations in the Pacific to counteract China’s aggressive military expansion in the region, specifically in the contentious South China Sea, has pushed the Navy to a breaking point.

“The U.S. Navy finds itself getting into accidents lately against the background of commonly entering other countries’ nearby seas and sensitive waters to undertake so-called patrols with ships in bad condition, personnel physically and spiritually exhausted, and with lax safety knowledge,” analysts wrote in an September editorial in the Chinese military newspaper China National Defense.

As a result of the increased operational tempo in the Pacific, the Seventh Fleet is comprised of sailors and officers “that are weary, with their steeds spent, helmets askew, and armor bent,” analysts wrote. The Pacific-centric focus of the Navy’s operational strategy have also had negative effects on the service’s other regional missions, leaving those forces undermanned and under-equipped.

Navy Times reported in September that service leaders were exploring the issue of exhausted sailors and officers conducting combat operations with little to no sleep could have played a role in the series of accidents at Seventh Fleet.

“So there are sailors that are there are being asked to do things at a significantly increased pace. But we have to understand, too, that there are limitations to what we can ask for,” Virginia Republican Rep. Rob Wittman, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower subpanel, told the Navy Times that month.

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