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Navy finds USS Connecticut underwater grounding "preventable"

The Navy on Monday released the results of its command investigation that found the USS Connecticut's grounding on an underwater seamount on Oct. 2, 2021, was "preventable" and could have led to the loss of the submarine. 

The investigation also revealed previous examples of poor performance by the senior officers aboard the Connecticut in the year leading up to the grounding, including when the submarine struck a pier in San Diego six months earlier. 

The Seawolf-class submarine (SSN 22), which was built at Electric Boat and commissioned in 1998, "grounded on an uncharted seamount while operating submerged in a poorly surveyed area in international waters in the Indo-Pacific region."

"This mishap was preventable. It resulted from an accumulation of errors and omissions in navigation planning, watchteam execution, and risk management that fell far below U.S. Navy standards. Prudent decision-making and adherence to required procedures in any of these three areas could have prevented the grounding," states the executive summary of the Navy probe.

The Navy said Monday that in addition to addressing the errors that caused the grounding, the investigation highlighted specific areas for improvement in the training and certification process. It said the Navy is "urgently implementing these improvements across the Submarine Force."

"In implementing these significant improvements, the Navy will become a more effective fighting force. Given the inherently dangerous nature of Naval operations, we cannot become a risk-averse or zero-defect organization, but prioritizing safety will engender a culture of greater attention to detail in operational tasks, enhanced procedural compliance, and a questioning attitude that constantly seeks improvement — which increases the readiness of our forces and the Navy's lethality in combat," it added. 

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2nd District), who serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, issued the following statement Monday night after the Navy released the results of its investigation. 

“The Navy’s release of the investigation that concluded the USS Connecticut collision was ‘preventable’, although not unexpected, is still nonetheless disheartening. As one of the three Seawolf-class attack subs with the highest level of lethality and speed in our undersea fleet, even the temporary sidelining of Connecticut is an exasperating loss to our nation’s defense. The Seapower Subcommittee, which has already received a briefing on this fiasco, will continue to monitor Connecticut’s repairs, as well as ways the Navy can ensure that future operations of our attack submarines will be conducted with higher proficiency for the safety of its crews and platforms.”

Last November, the Navy announced that it had relieved the submarine's two senior officers — Cmdr. Cameron Aljilani, who had commanded the boat for 26 months, and Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Cashin, the executive officer. Master Chief Sonar Technician Cory Rodgers, the chief of the boat, was also relieved from his position.

Monday's report recommends Aljilani be subject to nonjudicial punishment for dereliction of duty and improper hazarding of a vessel and that the administrative chain of command initiate detachment for cause. 

According to the Navy, detachment for cause is the removal of an officer from the officer's current duty assignment before their normal transfer or planned rotation date.

It also recommends Cashin be subject to nonjudicial punishment for dereliction of duty and the administrative chain of command initiate detachment for cause.

It recommends administrative counseling for Rodgers and the administrative chain of command should determine, based on his overall performance, whether Rodgers "has the requisite leadership abilities to return Connecticut to standards."

It further recommends disciplinary action for four other crew members whose names are redacted from the report.

Earlier problems aboard the sub  

The report states that in July 2020, Aljilani received a Letter of Performance that addressed "inadequate
supervisory oversight, ineffective accountability practices, and superficial self-assessment."

In February 2021, he was issued a formal Letter of Instruction "directing him to address the command's
overall performance, lack of improvement, and reluctance to accept feedback."

Then two months later, on April 14, the report states the Connecticut struck a pier while mooring at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego, Calif. The squadron officer investigating the pier incident found that it "could have been prevented with early, decisive action" and recommended Aljilani, Cashin and  six other crew members "receive administrative or disciplinary action for dereliction of duty."

But while the squadron investigator found the pier incident "revealed degraded standards in navigation, planning, poor seamanship, and ineffective command and control, it represented an anomalous performance and not systematic failure." The investigator then wrote that he "observed a safe landing from the bridge of Connecticut on May 13, 2021, indicating appropriate reflection and training of the crew" and then "certified the safe navigation of the ship through all phases of submarine operations."  

The submarine was certified to deploy on May 27, 2021. Many details about the action taken by the crew in the minutes leading up to the Oct. 2 grounding on the seamount, are redacted in the report released to the public on Monday.  

A pump system failed, and there was an electrical fire aboard the submarine after the grounding, which damaged the submarine's ballast tanks but not its nuclear reactor or propulsion system.

"A grounding at this speed and depth had the potential for more serious injuries, fatalities, and even loss of the ship," it states. "Actions immediately following the grounding were effective. The crew put the ship in a stable condition on the surface, managed injuries and equipment damage, and transited to Guam safely and securely.

It criticized various crew members for multiple errors in navigation that led to the grounding.  

The crash caused minor injuries to 11 crew members, the most serious being a fractured right scapula and a mild head trauma. The reports states 50 crew members were identified as needing mental health treatment after the incident.  The submarine then made its way to Guam for a damage assessment.  

The report, written by Rear Adm. Christopher Cavanaugh, states the submarine, whose homeport is Bremerton, Wash., "will be unavailable for operations for an extended period of time due to damage sustained during the grounding."  The report states a cost estimate for repairs was not available at the time of the report's writing. 

j.wojtas@theday.com

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