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Navy Orders Complete Standdown

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 ships—including submarines—to "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)

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    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 littlmoney.

    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 bdgets. 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.

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