One of the least-discussed aspects of the series of collisions and other mishaps between U.S. Navy warships in the 7th Fleet and commercial vessels is the cumulative effect they are having on the confidence among America’s Asia-Pacific allies that the nation’s sea service is up to the task of providing promised security.
Among the topics of discussion in a recent hearing in the House of Representatives as to why so many accidents had occurred in such a short time was the fact that U.S. Navy warships and crews are so heavily tasked — especially in the Asia-Pacific Theater — that training and overall readiness have suffered greatly. Before the hearing published reports noted that at least one-third of all 7th Fleet vessels and crews were operating without certification or under expired training.
While experts caution against reading too much into those facts and to refrain from underestimating the 7th Fleet’s capabilities, regional allies and competitors have taken notice. Government-sponsored and regulated Chinese newspapers, for instance, ran a series of political cartoons mocking U.S. naval competence without any regard for the loss of life, no doubt as a way to further undermine allies’ confidence while exploiting the accidents for geopolitical gain.
“But while the Seventh Fleet may have taken a public blow to its operating credibility, its ships are still the most experienced in the U.S. Navy, operating its most arduous waters, and should not be underestimated,” said one report. [source]
Fair enough. But so often perception is the reality, and right now, competitors and allies alike in and around the South China Sea are under the perception that the U.S. Navy is far from infallible. Too many more accidents may make allies reluctant to trust Washington will come (competently) to their aid or make competitors like China test U.S. resolve.
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