US Navy Removes 7th Fleet Commander After Latest Collision but Does It Mean Anything?

SHIMODA, Japan (May 20, 2017) – Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet delivers his congratulatory greetings during the 78th Annual Shimoda Black Ship Festival Ceremony. The Navy’s participation in the festival celebrates the heritage of U.S.-Japanese naval partnership first established by Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel A. Taylor/Released by FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs Office)
SHIMODA, Japan (May 20, 2017) – Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet delivers his congratulatory greetings during the 78th Annual Shimoda Black Ship Festival Ceremony. The Navy’s participation in the festival celebrates the heritage of U.S.-Japanese naval partnership first established by Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel A. Taylor/Released by FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs Office)
SHIMODA, Japan (May 20, 2017) – Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet delivers his congratulatory greetings during the 78th Annual Shimoda Black Ship Festival Ceremony. The Navy’s participation in the festival celebrates the heritage of U.S.-Japanese naval partnership first established by Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 port visit. (U.S. Navy photo by Daniel A. Taylor/Released by FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs Office)

Monday, the USS John S. McCain was rammed by a Liberian-flagged supertanker in the Straits of Malacca. Ten sailors are presumed dead. This follows a similar incident off Japan where the USS Fitzgerald was rammed by a container ship and cost the lives of seven sailors. This makes a total of four underway accidents, three collisions and one running aground, in the Seventh Fleet in less than a year. As I pointed out on Monday, one-fourth of the destroyers assigned to the Pacific Fleet are now out of action–probably for at least a year–without any enemy contact. This led the Chief of Naval Operations to order an ‘operational pause’ to review safety procedures.

The axe has fallen:

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, today relieved the commander of Seventh Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, who has already been nominated and confirmed for the position and promotion to Vice Adm., will assume command immediately.

Time will tell if this was an actual realization that something was really wrong or eyewash to give the illusion of concern. Aucoin was scheduled to retire next month and Sawyer had already been identified as his replacement. So this is hardly a shake-up of the chain of command. The career of the commander of the Fitzgerald is over. The career of the commander of the McCain only exists until the formal decision is made to relieve him, but he, too, is as goner. The commander of 7th Fleet is gone. If the Navy is serious the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15 needs to hit the bricks. It makes no sense at all to relieve two destroyer commanders and the fleet commander and leave the guy most directly responsible for the discipline in both McCain and Fitzgerald in his position.