7th Fleet collisions raise questions about U.S. military readiness in the Pacific

The United States Navy’s largest overseas fleet is coming off a troubling year: five accidents, 17 sailors killed, leaders summarily dismissed . And on Tuesday, a military spokesperson said the Navy will convene court-martial proceedings against sailors tied to two deadly collisions last year.

The spate of collisions involving the 7th Fleet, based in the Japanese port of Yokosuka, has alarmed allies, emboldened adversaries and raised urgent questions about American military readiness at a time of heightened tensions in the Pacific, experts say.

“What we have done is discourage our allies, who have always looked up to the U.S. Navy in the post-World War II era as the competent professionals in the Pacific,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst. “That reputation has been damaged significantly, and we have to rebuild it.” 1

Jan. 31, 2017: The USS Antietam is damaged when it runs aground off the coast of Japan.


May 9, 2017: The USS Lake Champlain is struck by a South Korean fishing boat.


June 17, 2017: The USS Fitzgerald collides with a container ship off the coast of Japan. Seven U.S. sailors are killed.


Aug. 21, 2017: The USS John S. McCain collides with an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca. Ten U.S. sailors are killed and five are injured.


Nov. 18, 2017: The USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, sustained minor damage when a Japanese tugboat lost propulsion and drifted into the ship.

In a report issued last November, the Navy concluded that the two fatal crashes were avoidable, stemming from pervasive failures by crews and commanders alike.The incidents have come at a particularly perilous moment in the Pacific, where U.S. armed forces confront a belligerent nuclear-armed North Korea and an increasingly assertive China.Japan-based experts said the collisions have left hard-to-shake worries about the U.S. Navy’s ability to push back against the North Korean regime and its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un. Notably, two of the warships involved in incidents last year, the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, are destroyers tasked with defending against ballistic missiles fired by Pyongyang.”Now they are out of service so we have to wonder whether the U.S. can maintain an effective missile defense position in this region,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a maritime security researcher at the Japan Institute of International Affairs.The rapid expansion of Chinese military power, particularly its fast-strengthening navy, represents another challenge for the beleaguered U.S. Navy command. The U.S. is particularly concerned about the Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, which U.S. officials see as an attempt by China to assert military dominance over the region.”When viewed in the context of the larger shift in the balance of forces and influence in the region and beyond, the accidents are unhelpful,” said retired U.S. Marine Col. Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. Damage to the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald is seen as the vessel is berthed at its mother port in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, on […]