Navy and Navy officials seek to improve safety culture following fatal AAV crash last year
U.S. Marines drive amphibious assault vehicles through waves during training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 14, 2020. Marines from Camp Pendleton were back in the ocean with AAVs this week . (Brendan Mullin / United States Marine Corps)
WASHINGTON – Officials from the Marine Corps and Navy told House lawmakers on Monday they were looking for ways to create a culture of safety after an amphibious assault vehicle sank that killed nine servicemen l ‘last year.
“The sinking of this AAV and the deaths of eight Marines and one sailor were preventable. Avoidable in many ways. But we failed, ”General Gary Thomas, Deputy Commander of the Marine Corps, told members of a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee.
A “confluence of human and mechanical failures” caused the sinking of the AAV off the coast of California in July, according to a nearly 2,000-page internal investigation released in March that found the fatal training accident was preventable.
The unit’s vehicles were in “horrible condition” and 12 out of 13 were unusable when they should have been ready for land and sea operations, the investigation concluded.
Thomas and other military officials spoke at the hearing about lessons learned from the investigation, how to reduce the risk of preventable accidents and create a culture of safety within the Marine Corps and the Marine.
“If we can, with our education system, our reporting systems, create an environment where people are comfortable, I think we will make a lot of progress towards the culture of safety that we need,” he said. he declares.
This includes researching how to instill in leaders the importance of monitoring, identifying risks, shutting down operations, and rewarding hazard reporting.
The nine service members, part of the 1/4 Battalion Landing Team of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, drowned as their AAV sank during a pre-deployment training exercise.
The AAV was returning to the USS Somerset when the vehicle began to take on water. The investigation revealed that there were no suitable safety boats on the water. He also discovered that the crash was caused by a sequence of mechanical failures, a communication failure inside the AAV, and an interruption in training.
Eleven members of the Marine Corps in the chain of command have so far been sanctioned for their role in the crash. Review boards are still considering whether the majority of them should be separated from the service, Thomas said. Some have had less discipline against them, he said.
Last month, Thomas also asked Lt. Gen. Carl Mundy III to conduct a new investigation into the training of the Marine Expeditionary Unit, including training and readiness monitoring. It is not known on Monday what led to the last investigation.
He said all Marines should be empowered to “assess risk and speak up when they see something dangerous.” Commanders must also foster an environment that rewards hazard reporting in order to enhance the overall safety culture of the service.
“Historically, the Marine Corps has had a culture of instinctively providing relief to everyone after an incident or disaster, without analyzing individual command responsibilities. … Obviously, there was an oversight that should have happened, both with regard to [coronavirus] This AAV battalion’s basic training or surveillance schedules, ”said Representative Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a Marine Corps veteran who has flown four missions in Iraq.
The investigation found that some leaders correctly reported training and equipment gaps, but those reports were ignored or the leaders were punished for raising concerns up the chain of command.
The Marine Corps made a series of recommendations in the aftermath of the crash after the investigation was released in March, which includes reviewing the effectiveness of lifejackets, underwater evacuation training and the use of safety boats during waterway operations.
In coordination with the Navy, recommendations include a review of standard operating procedures for AAV operations and the amphibious combat vehicle program to ensure that lessons learned from AAV accidents are incorporated into training and operations.
Representative John Garamendi, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee readiness subgroup, criticized the Marine Corps recommendations, citing the lack of a way for the military to “sound the alarm and call timeout “.
He said 137 Marines have died in various accidents over the past decade and 60 members in the past five years.
“Clearly, [pausing the exercise] could and should have happened in this tragedy, but it did not happen, ”Garamendi said.
To encourage this action, Thomas said the Marine Corps is looking to add additional security specialists to ensure the security of the exercises and establish more adequate security protocols.
“In all the exercises that we do every day in the Marine Corps, every exercise at some point, the Marines get up and shut down operations, and that’s exactly what we have to do in this case, that’s it. that we have failed, ”he said. .
The Navy, comprising a panel of 16 subject matter experts within and outside the two services, is conducting a separate investigation into the incident. It will provide conclusions on planning, Navy and Marine Corps integration, as well as training and operational safety.
This investigation is expected within 30 days, said Vice-Admiral Roy Kitchener, Commander of Naval Surface Forces. The Navy has not resumed waterborne AAV operations since a post-crash safety hiatus.
The investigation will also examine what actions and decisions Navy personnel took that day that could have contributed to the accident, and what policies and practices are needed or need improvement, among others.
“I am working deliberately and urgently with my Marine Corps counterpart to review all integrated Navy and Marine Corps operations to ensure that our operational procedures are aligned, including a common policy on the use of safety boats and clear lines of authority during training evolutions, ”Kitchener said.
A subsequent investigation of the AAVs directly after the accident revealed that the majority of vehicles had failed inspection and should not be used. The mechanics who had inspected the vehicles returned them, up to code for land operations, but not maritime operations.
“We had an issue across the fleet with our seal integrity. Some 54% of the vehicles inspected had failures in the sealing integrity of their plenum doors, i.e. the large air intakes at the front, to allow air to enter. ‘Getting in and out of an engine underwater,’ said Maj. Gen. Gregg P. Olson, director of personnel for the Marine Corps.
Olson said he has updated manuals and instructions to ensure vehicles are inspected to the highest level of detail necessary to determine deviations in vehicle safety for both types of operations.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., Asked Thomas what the process is to ensure that changes and recommendations issued as a result of the investigation are incorporated into service policy and doctrine.
Thomas said a watchdog group, led by a general officer, is reviewing the recommendations and these people are leading briefings on progress until action is complete. Part of this also includes providing an action plan to Congress.
Garamendi said the House subcommittee intended to hold another follow-up hearing in about six months to ensure the recommendations were implemented.