American warships’ mishaps at sea this year didn’t come out of nowhere. Entering 2017, Navy brass were well aware of problems stemming from the overall fleet’s shrinkage — problems that require rebuilding U.S. naval strength.
A guided missile cruiser ran aground in Tokyo Bay in January. Then there were collisions: a cruiser with a South Korean fishing boat in May, the USS Fitzgerald with a container ship outside Tokyo Bay in June, the USS John McCain with an oil tanker on Aug. 21 near Singapore. Those incidents cost 17 U.S. sailors’ lives, more than 2017’s 14 U.S. casualties to date in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reports.
That’s beyond regrettable. And as these incidents mainly involved the Japan-based 7th Fleet, which patrols much of the Pacific and Indian oceans including waters off China and North Korea, they underscore the situation’s urgency. The post-9/11 Navy has been putting more ships at sea simultaneously — shortchanging maintenance and training — as its fleet shrank by 20 percent to today’s 276 deployable vessels.
The Trump administration is considering expansion to 350 ships. With a thinned-out fleet’s consequences obvious to 17 sailors’ grieving families, and to allies and adversaries around the world, strengthening the Navy must be an immediate high priority. Too much is at stake to risk further deterioration.