Two high-profile collisions involving U.S destroyers have sparked new concerns about how the Navy prepares its sailors for overseas operations. The service sees improved simulations and training as a way to avoid future accidents.
On June 17, 2017, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan. Two months later on Aug. 21, the USS John McCain turned into the path of the Alnic MC, a Liberian-registered tanker. The Navy's "Comprehensive Review of Surface Force Incidents" found that during both accidents, the watchstanders did not work together effectively or comply with standard procedures.
When operating at sea, the Navy usually has watchstanders both on the bridge and in the combat information center. But Capt. Sam Pennington, surface training systems program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command, said this was not how sailors were being taught.
"We were only training the bridge teams, historically," he said at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference in Orlando, Florida, which was hosted by the National Training and Simulation Association.
Pennington said his office began working to upgrade current navigation, seamanship and shiphandling trainers (NSSTs)--which are bridge simulators used to train ship crews--to reflect real-world operations.
"Soon after the collisions... my office put together some interim solutions to incorporate watch standards in combat," he said. "We've already begun implementing those changes to the existing NSSTs--we've modified them."
A statement by a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesperson notes that modifications to the legacy NSSTs are slated for completion by May 2019.
Longer term plans include pursuing a new maritime skills training program that includes the installation of new simulation systems and instructors, Pennington said. The program will provide a "holistic approach" to training, Pennington noted.
The Navy will deliver simulators to six locations in fiscal year 2021, which include Yokosuka, Japan; Sasebo, Japan; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Everett, Washington; San Diego; and Mayport, Florida. Simulators will be delivered to Norfolk, Virginia; Rota, Spain; and Bahrain in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, the statement said.
"The technology that we're going to bring... is going to be outstanding," Pennington said. "In the interim, we're going to try to get as much capability to the left [of schedule] to modify the existing NSSTs to ensure that we have that...