To say that the story of the USS John McCain's collision off of Singapore with a tanker was probably the biggest story of the last week would be putting it mildly(judging by the amount of articles and emails about it that I received), for it is now quite clear - at least in this author's opinion - that "something" is going on with the US Navy's Arleigh Burke class missile frigates, and it isn't good. It is, to be blunt, a major matter of the national security and defense. The real question is, what is going on, and who is really behind it? In this multi-part blog, I hope to outline at least a few of the interpretive options and "high octane speculations", though my list may not be your list, and your guess is as good as mine. And there's plenty of material to guess about.
First, the background. A few years ago, you'll recall, the USS Donald Cook was dispatched to duty station in the Black Sea in the wake of Mr. Putin's "annexation" of the Crimea, a move which the West interpreted as hostile, not withstanding the fact that Sevastopol was traditionally the base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and not withstanding the claims of local Russians of mistreatment from the US-backed coup government in Kiev. We heard lots about the violations of international law and what an outlaw Mr. Putin was, while no one in the West seemed to care that toppling legal governments - no matter how loathsome - was also a "violation of law." In any case, the Donald Cook arrived in the Black Sea, and we all know what happened next. An obsolescent Russian Sukhoi 24 fighter bomber approached the expensive Arleigh Burke class ship, and... all of its electronics died. Everything (or, so we're told). The problem was something that few noted at the time: while the electronics and computer systems appear to have been compromised, the ship was still under power and steerable. In any case, the crew tried to reboot the system while the Russian aircraft made no less than a dozen or so mock attack runs over the ship.
The Donald Cook beat a hasty retreat to the Romanian port of Constanza where, we were told, the ship was due for rest and minor repairs.
At the time, I definitely concluded that something had happened to interfere with the ship's sophisticated systems, and that the Russian fighter was the immediate proximate cause. We'll be getting back to that in this multi-part blog.
The Donald Cook disappeared from the news radar for a couple of years, when it reappeared in the Baltic Sea for NATO exercises, when again a Russian Sukhoi 24 approached the ship, and the same thing more or less happened again. Now, my rule is, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three or more is a pattern.
It became a pattern when the USS Fitzgerald was rammed by a freighter off the coast of Japan, with loss of life. Again, the questions raised far outstripped the answers given. How, with all that expensive equipment on the Fitzgerald, was another ship able to ram it? One would assume that the bridge watch would have noticed the ship, and its strange maneuvers, and taken evasive action, and also at least attempted to warn off the approaching freighter. We don't know, because we were not told. The lack of evasive action suggests that the crew had lost control of the ship by some means. At the time, I speculated that it might be some form of electronic warfare or pulse, but one reader here kindly mentioned that standard pulse weapons would black out all electronics, including steerage. The problem with that, as I see it, is that one would assume the US Navy would have certain electronic systems, including steerage, "hardened" against the possibility. Yet another possibility is a new type of electronic weapon that can target specific systems, perhaps by scanning for certain types of signals.
Fast forward to last week: On August 20 last week, the USS John McCain, yet another ship of this class, collided with a tanker while on a routine call to the port of Singapore, as reported here by RT:
Looking at this damage, I am struck by yet another coincidence: the damage to the vessel appears to be midships on the port side, just behind the superstructure of the ship, or, to be very "general" about it, behind the bridge. The Fitzgerald was struck on the starboard side, midships, just below and a little forward of the superstructure. Whether this is significant, I do not know. What is interesting is this statement:
The vessel arrived at Changi Naval Base in Singapore with significant damage and several flooded compartments.
Now, RT is stating that the McCain hit the tanker, but it would seem, given the nature of the damage, that the tanker hit the McCain, as was the case in the Fitzgerald incident, and this raises the question, once again, of why the McCain did not take evasive action nor attempt to warn off the tanker? Are both incidents simply due to crew incompetence (always a possibility in dumbed-down America)? After all, with an increasingly stupid population with the attention span of gnats, it is the height of irrationality to expect a population that can barely read, much less write, to run a multi-million dollar sophisticated weapons system with anything approaching expertise. Education is a national security and defense issue.
The US Navy appears to be opting for some implied version of the "incompetence hypothesis" by dismissing the Commander of the 7th Fleet:
Note the implied "incompetence hypothesis" in the following statement from the above-linked article:
A two-sentence statement issued by the Navy said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, had relieved Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command."
The move follows four Navy accidents in the Pacific since late January, including two collisions that left sailors dead and missing.
"While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation," Swift said late Tuesday.
He said the Navy will carry out a "deliberate re-set" of all its ships in the Pacific, focused on navigation, mechanical systems and bridge resource management. It will include training and an expert assessment of each ship.
We note that the McCain managed to make it to port under its own power and steerage, recalling at least, in this regard, the Donald Cook, and we note that the Navy's statements is focusing on certain systems on the ship: Navigation, mechanical systems, and "bridge resource management." The Navy is also doubling down on the collisions being "unintentional" and due to incompetence:
The collision at daybreak in a busy shipping area tore a gaping hole in the McCain's left rear hull and flooded adjacent compartments including crew berths and machinery and communication rooms.
The cause of the collision has not been determined. The Navy previously said there was no evidence it was intentional, or that it was a result of sabotage or cyberintrusion.
The Navy last week said the Fitzgerald's captain was being relieved of his command and other sailors were being punished after poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch were found to have contributed to its collision. An investigation into how and why the Fitzgerald collided with the other ship was not finished, but enough details were known to take those actions, the Navy said.
There were two lesser-known incidents in the first half of the year. In January, the USS Antietam guided missile cruiser ran aground near Yokosuka base, the home port of the 7th Fleet, and in May another cruiser, the USS Lake Champlain from the Navy's 3rd Fleet, had a minor collision with a South Korean fishing boat. (Emphasis added)
From a certain point of view, such dismissals are normal operating procedure while investigations are under way.
But I'm not buying the incompetence hypothesis for the simple reason that it has that "Admiral Kimmel" feel to it. Kimmel, of course, was the commanding flag officer at Pearl Harbor when it happened, and in spite of his repeated warnings to Washington to beef up Hawaii's air defenses and warning systems prior to the surprise Japanese attack on December 7 1941, Kimmel was made to take the fall and blame for the disaster.
So what are the other hypotheses and "high octane speculations" one might entertain as an interpretive template for all these strange events?
I contend that the Donald Cook incidents were a warning, and a message, a message which appears to be repeated with the ramming of the Fitzgerald and John McCain (talk about sending a message!). But we'll have to wait until tomorrow to entertain those speculations.
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