New US 7th Fleet commander to emphasise training and preparation after two recent naval collisions

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The operational demands on the US Navy 7th Fleet were so high that not enough emphasis was placed on its crew's preparation and training, said its new commander Phil Sawyer yesterday.

In his first interview since assuming command on Aug 23, the vice-admiral was sharing his take on preliminary findings of two collisions involving vessels in the US 7th Fleet, which looks after the western Pacific Ocean and enforces the Americans' regional protector role.

"Over time, the balance shifted too much to the operational side and not enough to making sure that our teams were rested, were trained, were able to go do the things we were asking them to do," said Vice-Adm Sawyer.

At one point, he said that even if he had the entire US Navy out in Yokosuka, Japan - where the fleet is based - he "still would not be able to do all the things that everybody would want me to do".

One of his tasks thus as commander would be to "prioritise those and execute those things that we can execute", he added during a media briefing.

He referred to the setting up of the new Naval Surface Group Western Pacific to train and certify forward-deployed surface ships operating out of Japan as one of the ways the US Navy was bringing this balance "back to normal".

"Its job is to make sure its units are trained and ready to go before we employ them in all the operations out here," he said.

Vice-Adm Sawyer was appointed to replace Vice-Adm Joseph Aucoin as 7th Fleet commander, following a collision between the guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain and a merchant ship near Singapore on Aug 21, which killed 10 American sailors.

The collision, which happened at 5.24am as the destroyer was sailing in for a routine call here, left a hole in its hull.

Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau is investigating the incident, in a process that typically takes up to a year, while the US Navy is also holding its own probe.

The collision highlighted concerns over the US Navy as a fighting force. The McCain's sister ship, the Fitzgerald, had almost sunk off the coast of Japan in June after colliding with a Philippine container ship. Seven American sailors died in that accident.


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