The USS Essex keeps making news for all the wrong reasons. The amphibious assault ship was unable to complete two missions because of mechanical or maintenance issues. Last month the aging warship’s steering failed, causing it to collide with the tanker. Now the Navy has removed the ship’s commanding officer.
According to press reports, the Navy “lost confidence” in Capt. Chuck Litchfield, who was in charge when the Essex crashed into the USNS Yukon off the coast of California on May 16. The Essex was returning from a 12-year stint in Sasebo, Japan.
The amphibious assault ship was featured in a Heritage Foundation video last month about military readiness. The high-profile mishaps on the Essex reflect broader challenges with America’s aging military.
“These current problems are the result of years of under-funded maintenance and modernization work,” Heritage’s Brian Slattery wrote earlier this year.
It’s not the first time the military has confronted a readiness crisis. In Heritage’s video, retired Capt. Tom Shanahan recalls his experience on the USS Canisteo in 1979. America’s military had emerged from the Vietnam War earlier in the decade and was now facing sizable and significant budget cuts.
“I can see in the USS Essex the same types of things that happened to me in Canisteo,” Shanahan said. “You draw down equipment, you draw down personnel, and therefore, you draw down the readiness of your ship to deploy. I had that case in Canisteo. I was drawn down to the standpoint I could not get the ship to sea, and I had to be honest with my superiors and say I couldn’t do it.”
In Shanahan’s case, he took the bold step of refusing to certify his ship as seaworthy — a bold move that came as a surprise to many in the military.
For the 21-year-old USS Essex, steering failure was a factor in the May 16 collision. But a Navy investigation also found breakdowns in the command and control of the ship and a loss of situational awareness, according a spokeswoman. Those factors contributed to Litchfield’s dismissal.