June 30, 2016
STAFF: All right, good morning, everyone.
Today, we have the chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, and his deputy for operations, plans and strategy, Vice Admiral Chris Aquilino, here to discuss the results of the investigation into the detention of 10 U.S. navy sailors by Iranian military forces earlier this year.
You all should have a handout that depicts the timeline of events, and the intended and actual route taken by the boats. They will review what happened that day, the findings of the investigation and any corrective actions taken.
And then we'll open it up for questions on the investigation, and if time permits, we can cover -- cover some other topics. We'll have about 30 minutes.
ADMIRAL JOHN RICHARDSON: Before we get started, is there a question about the handouts?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah. So, the question is, where are they?
Well, good morning everybody, and thank you for being here. And as Dawn announced today, we're releasing the results of the investigation into the seizure of two riverine command boats on 12 January this year by Iranian forces in the vicinity of Farsi Island, and the subsequent detention of 10 sailors.
And the goal of this investigation was to conduct a thorough review of what U.S. Navy actions may have contributed to this incident.
Now, we conduct these investigations to learn what we can in order to prevent similar events from occurring. And where necessary, to hold our people accountable where they failed to follow procedures and meet expectations.
Now, before I get into the additional details, I want to address the question of international law up front. And as I've said before, these two boats and their crew members had every right to be where they were on that day. And the investigation concluded that Iran violated international law by impeding the boats' innocent passage transit, and they violated sovereign immunity by boarding, searching and seizing the boats and by photographing and videotaping the crew.
Now, having said that, the bulk of the investigation concentrated on our lessons learned, and corrective actions to prevent this from recurring in the future. And with respect to the review of the boats' actions, the investigation looked in-depth at both chains of command.
So, just to set the scene here, there are two chains of command that are operative. One is a chain of command back here in the United States that is responsible for manning, and training and equipping these units, preparing them and then certifying for them -- them for deployments.
And then, when they go over to the 5th Fleet, they chop, they report to the 5th Fleet commander and the task force commander in theater, and they run their operations. And the crews report to them while they're in theater.
So, we investigated both of the chain -- both chains of command.
We began the investigation with the operational chain of command. So, as soon as the incident had -- you know, the actual incident itself had completed, the commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain appointed an investigating officer to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.
Then during the review of the investigation, the vice chief of naval operations appointed the deputy commander of Fleet Forces Command down in Norfolk to conduct a supplemental inquiry to focus on command and control at all levels, including the 5th Fleet, and to incorporate a formal legal opinion from the judge abdicate general on U.S. and Iranian compliance with international law.
The vice chief also expanded the investigation's scope to include our four-star fleet commanders in the United States here. The Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Swift, and the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces, Commander Admiral Davidson, to ensure that all aspects of the crew’s pre-deployment preparation and training were addressed.
Command investigation and the supplemental inquiries ensure that we had a complete and objective examination of the incident from the riverine boat crews up through the fleet commander, as well as the -- so, their operational chain of command, as well as that chain of command that prepares them to deploy.
Now, the investigation reviewed seven areas: manning, training, material readiness, command and control, adherence to procedures while in theater, the rules of engagement and the code of conduct, and then international law.
And Admiral Aquilino will provide additional details about the root causes in each area and actions that are underway to address them.
Now as I mentioned during recent testimony and in my conversations with you, my intent -- our intent today is to be as open and transparent as possible and hopefully you've had the opportunity to review the documentation that we've already distributed and we can address any additional questions that you may have at the end of the brief.
Today, though, we'll have to be careful about covering specific accountability actions. That process is conducted separately. I know you're all very familiar with that. As you know, we can't bias the outcome of those actions in any way, so we'll be not commenting on the specifics of those proceedings.
So with that as an opening, to walk you through the details of the investigation and the corrective actions, I'll turn the podium over to Vice Admiral Aquilino, my deputy for operations, plans and strategy.
VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS AQUILINO: Thank you, sir.
I'd like to provide you an overview of the incident itself and talk about the issue -- issues revealed by the investigation and the corrective actions implemented to ensure this event is not repeated.
For reference today, all times identified will be in Bahrain local time.
Coastal Riverine Squadron III deployed to the 5th Fleet area of operations in August of 2015. The riverine command boats operate from Bahrain. They conduct escort of high value assets in and out of port as their primary mission.
In October of 2015, three boats deployed from Bahrain to Kuwait to conduct operations in the North Arabian Gulf. On January 11th, 2016, two of the boats were directed to transit from Bahrain in support of the mission tasked to the central Arabian Gulf. Normally the riverine boats operate in a minimum of pairs for mutual support.
They planned to follow a standard navigation route used routinely between Kuwait and Bahrain. Because of the distance, the boats planned to meet up with another ship for refueling about midway through the transit.
On 12 January, two boats departed Kuwait on a 259 nautical mile transit to Bahrain, the longest the crews had ever executed. The boats departed about four hours later than planned and immediately deviated from their planned route in an attempt to make up some time.
The crew's deviation caused them to transit unknowingly through Saudi Arabian territorial seas and then through Iranian territorial seas off the coast of Farsi Island. Approximately a mile and a half south of Farsi Island, one of the two boats suffered and engine problem. That was at 4:11 p.m.
Both boats stopped, one to conduct engine repairs, the second boat to provide support. At 4:20, two Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGCN, patrol craft approached at high speed with weapons uncovered.
The U.S. crews attempted to communicate with the Iranians, informing them they had an engine issue. Shortly thereafter, the engine was repaired and the crews attempted to evade.
One of the boats was physically blocked, preventing it from departing the area, when two larger IRGCN vessels arrived.
The U.S. boats, assessing that they were overmatched, were then forced to reposition to Farsi Island, where the crews were held overnight and interrogated.
After learning the crews were detained, the 5th Fleet commander direct -- directed a robust military response and search and rescue effort.
As a result of these efforts and diplomatic negotiations, the crews were released the next morning.
As described earlier, the investigation reviewed seven focus areas and the CNO has already addressed international law. But I will now describe the conclusions reached by the investigators regarding the remaining six areas, as well as the corrective actions taken or are currently in process -- progress.
Some of those corrective actions are in the operational chain of command under 5th Fleet, while others are in the administrative chain of command, as CNO described, under the direction of the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, or NECC.
For manning, the report validated that the squadron was adequately manned when they deployed to the 5th Fleet area of operations in August of 2015, and no corrective actions are anticipated with regard to manning.
Under training, the report validated that pre-deployment training and certification was adequate and appropriate for the missions expected to be assigned. However, the investigation also found that once deployed, sustainment training, including navigation, weapons, and rules of engagement training, was not conducted.
Operationally, the 5th Fleet commander conducted reviews of the training and readiness programs and provided additional training to personnel in theater since the incident. To address this, administrative chain has made a number of changes to the training program. This includes navigation training improvements, operational risk management, and increased simulator training in support of this effort.
Additionally, there are some actions that are ongoing and not yet completed, but are in work. Monthly training assessment of in-theater forces is in development. The enhancement of pre-deployment training to more closely align with the missions assigned is in work. And greater fleet training certification requirements are in place.
Under material readiness, material readiness within the squadron declined during the deployment due to lack of command involvement and oversight, as stated in the report. Of note, the boats were inspected during the turnover in August when this unit arrived, and the boats were found to be in good condition. The report found that the readiness degraded during their time when they were in Kuwait.
In response to these findings, formalized requirements for material readiness programs have been implemented, and no-notice inspections for all deployed units have also been implemented.
Under command and control, the investigation found a lack of leadership, a disregard for risk management processes and proper mission planning standards. One important note that the investigation stated was that if the guidance provided by the 5th Fleet commander had been followed, this event could have been prevented.
A lack of leadership for geographically distributed forces resulted in degraded maintenance, poor morale, and declining standards, and the investigation also found poor coordination and communication between units and the operations centers that oversee these events. 5th Fleet has refocused their training and leadership for its maritime operations centers and the subordinate operations centers that support.
And ongoing actions include the revision of the 5th Fleet operations order which governs riverine command boat operations and includes over-watch procedures.
Greater oversight and leadership involvement for geographically distributed forces is in place, and those should address the deficiencies as outlined.
For procedural adherence, the investigation states leadership did not enforce proper navigation practices. No preparation of a concept of operation briefing was developed; lacking communication plan, mission pre-briefs and weapons postures have all been addressed.
Specifically, once underway, the boat crews failed to report deviation from their planned route, unexpected land sitings or the engine casualty that required them to stop.
In order to prevent recurrence, 5th Fleet has directed indoctrination and assessment period for all forces going into theater. Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has implemented formal requirements for commanders or units to continually and personally update their readiness of their forces and instituted formal reports back to headquarters.
Under rules and engagement, the investigation determined that the rules of engagements in place are adequate, but may not have been understood by the crews. The investigation also found that some crew members did not meet code of conduct standards while in custody.
In addition to the changes to the training programs described, the command has increased the training required and they have added in-person survival evasion resistance and escape training for all coastal riverine forces that will deploy.
In conclusion, the investigation looked at seven areas of concern, and the Navy is taking actions at all levels of the chain of command to address those deficiencies to ensure this event will not happen again.
And CNO, thanks for the time.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Okay, thanks, Admiral Aquilino.
Before we get to questions, let me just conclude by saying that across the Navy and across the globe, hundreds of commanding officers and hundreds of thousands of U.S. sailors are making tough decisions and performing their duties in a way that should make every American proud and strike fear into anybody who would want to take us on.
Those -- those sailors clearly know our actions on that day in January, and this incident did not live up to our expectations of our Navy. But we are a Navy that learns in order to maintain the bonds of trust and confidence amongst ourselves and with the American people, we have an obligation to continually examine our personal and professional conduct to ensure that we always execute our mission and behave with integrity, with accountability, initiative and toughness.
And with that, I'll take your questions.
Q: Colonel, Bobs Burns with AP.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah.
Q: Question, in your opening statement, you mentioned -- I think you said it was the commander of the 5th Fleet had ordered a robust military response after this encounter happened.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah.
Q: Was that executed in anyway, and what was that?
And also, could you also elaborate about the point about the failures to adhere to the code of conduct standards?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah -- (inaudible).
Sir, with regard to the search and rescue effort that was initiated, the commander of 5th Fleet pushed USS Anzio into the area of Farsi Island, as well as there was a Coast Guard vessel that supported this event.
There were alert launches from Harry S. Truman, with F-18s to provide oversight -- over watch, as well as nontraditional ISR, in an attempt to build more information.
And lastly, the combined -- the Combined Air Operations Center supported it with a launch of F-15s.
Q: And the point about -- so that -- that -- this was a military response amounted to.
And then the code of conduct question?
ADM. RICHARDSON: So, for the code of conduct, the -- the code of conduct is clearly utilized as a guideline for behavior in an instance where soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines might be in custody. The specific item that was of concern was the potential to make statements that would harm or be disloyal to the United States. So that is what the investigation found.
Q: What was the statement that was made?
ADM. AQUILINO: The statement is in the investigation, Bob, so we can get you that specific thing. And then beyond that, the details of that are part of the ongoing accountability review and the -- the subject of further action on the part of Admiral Morneau of the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command.
So, we'll get you the exact quote right out of the investigation, but it's quoted there.
Q: Admiral, good morning. Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.
Navy so far has announced two reliefs for cause as a result of this incident. Are there any others that we don't know about yet that have been made? And I guess from a timeline perspective, where's the disciplinary process at this point?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right. So, there was the task force commander for Task Force 56. He has been relieved, as we've announced. The commanding officer of the squadron, the riverine squadron, has been relieved. Additionally, the officer in charge of the detachment in Kuwait, those boats that were deployed up there, has been relieved.
There are six other people that are being -- that are in process right now, and that's being handled by Admiral Morneau.
Q: Is this an NJP process or a criminal process?
ADM. RICHARDSON: What's that? Right. So, I believe it's a proceeding down the NJP line is where they intend to go.
Q: Admiral, this is not the first high-profile incident with riverine squadrons over the last three or four years. If I read the investigation and your comments correctly, either admiral, it seems like the -- the investigation concluded they were properly manned, trained, and equipped before they left. But how is it that this is not the first incidence over the last three years, even the last three months, really, of sub-par seamanship on behalf of the riverine squadron? And what are you doing to address that?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, as a result of that, David, NECC, the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command, as part of this and the other incidents, was directed to review exactly those questions. You know, how are the forces being trained? And asked to evaluate whether that training is adequate to match their expected missions.
So, right now, I'm not prepared to say that there's a larger problem, but I am -- I can confirm to you we're looking very hard at that, and we'll make adjustments as needed.
Q: Two unrelated questions. Firstly, on the code of conduct. The report sort of goes into details about one crewmember giving his password to his personal laptop, and giving information about the boat, the speed. I mean, is this sort of an isolated incident? Or are you looking at other incidents where crewmembers, you know, may give too much information when under interrogation?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Well, we don't have a big sampling of that, right? So, what we're doing is we're making sure that the training is as prototypical and relevant as possible, right? So, you know, there is the code of conduct as it exists, and then we are working to ensure that -- how that code of conduct can operate in foreseeable situations so that these sailors, and all service members, have as robust a training program that would be as realistic as possible to allow them to exercise -- (inaudible) -- so -- so -- that's kind of the -- the nature of the review that we're doing right now to make sure our training is as applicable as possible.
Q: (inaudible) -- question -- on China, actually. The Chinese have said they're not going to abide by the ruling by the International Court of Arbitration on July 12th. Could you give some details on what the U.S. may be willing to do when --
ADM. RICHARDSON: We generally don't anticipate things like that and so -- I don't want to get out in front of that type of thing.
Q: Hey, Admiral. –Sam Lagrone with USNI news.
So when the Brits had their sailors snatched by the IRGCN in 2007 from -- (inaudible) -- you know, they sought diplomatic international redress in the United Nations looking for a statement (inaudible) and stuff like that.
In your report you say several times that the Iranians seem to have violated (inaudible) of the United Nations -- (inaudible) -- convention. Where is the diplomatic response from the United States? Where is that redress? Is that coming? Is that something that you're aware about at the State Department or the administration is working or is this -- that the (inaudible)?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Our investigation didn't investigate that Sam, so I just want to confine our discussion today to what the investigation covered.
Q: But you're not aware of anything like that in --
ADM. RICHARDSON: I'll just stick to what we talked about here.
Q: (inaudible) Seapower magazine. A little trouble on the code of conduct thing. As an aviator before we had ever deployed, we always had to go through SERE training, which included indoctrination in the code of conduct. Were these the riverine guys, NECC people, not given that training?
ADM. RICHARDSON: So there's different levels of SERE training, as you know, and the aviators receive always the highest level. Prior to this event, the NECC received a lower level and that is one of the -- (inaudible) -- fixes is they will now receive the exact same training that you mentioned, sir.
Q: (inaudible) -- include the code of conduct --
ADM. RICHARDSON: Again, they do have code of conduct training, but not to the level -- prior to this event that we would have wanted, which is one of the results.
Q: Tara Copp, "Stars and Stripes."
For both of you. Did it surprise you just how many different things went wrong and that nobody stopped this particular patrol from going out? And then I have a couple of just clear-up questions on chain of command.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Okay. Yeah. I will tell you that having -- you around as long as we've been around, Tara, and these -- big incidents like this are always the result of the accumulation of a number of small problems. And so it's just the nature of these things.
And what we have to take aboard as a Navy is that you never know how these things are going to combine, right? And so we've got to be absolutely diligent and -- this is the command's responsibility that we sort of identify and fix problems wherever we find them. We've got to be extremely aggressive.
When you start living with problems, as this team in Kuwait, in particular, started to do and you saw it in the training, in the material, you never know how these things are going to combine at exactly the wrong moment and result in a bigger incident like this.
Q: (inaudible) -- follow-up on chain of command. The -- the task force commander who has been relieved, where is he in the chain of command? Is he directly above RC -- uh --
ADM. RICHARDSON: He's right –above the squadron commander for the riverine command boats. And so -- and just under the 5th Fleet commander.
Q: Is that squadron commander directly beneath him? Have there been any sort of administration penalty taken or --
ADM. RICHARDSON: That squadron commander was relieved of command.
ADM. RICHARDSON: So the squadron commander was relieved of command and his boss, the task force commander, was also relieved of command.
Q: Admiral Richardson, Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News.
Were you disappointed that one of your officers, the lieutenant, the commanding officer of the boats apologized to the Iranians and was filmed apologizing?
ADM. RICHARDSON: You know, I think that those types of questions are really not helpful in terms of getting us back on track as a Navy to take action to prevent this from ever happening again. And so, you know, my personal feelings really don't pertain to this.
Q: Will this incident be used as training material?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. This will be a case study going forward.
Q: (inaudible) -- Naval Academy to sailors throughout the fleet?
ADM. RICHARDSON: You can see that there are lessons that apply across our entire Navy, not just officers, but enlisted, the whole Navy. So this will be something that we can mine for a lot of lessons.
Q: Hope Seck, with Military.com.
In the investigation, it talks about the moment that the Iranian boats approached. And of course, many poor decisions have been made to get to that point. But it, you know, says that the crews were wrong to -- the -- the coxswain to disobey the order to accelerate, get away. There was hostile intent. So there's a possibility of a military response.
I'm curious, once you're in that position, what the correct actions to be taken were, rather than the surrender that happened?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, so clearly, the main point of the investigation is that you never want to get yourself into that position where you really have very, very few good choices. Right? There were no good choices at that -- and that's exactly how we train our Navy to be. So that if you're in a situation, you are ready to manage that situation, over-match anybody who would want to challenge us, and execute our mission.
So that would be the emphasis that I'd want to take away here. The particulars of what happened in the moment, as I said, are being considered as part of disciplinary procedures. And so I don't want to give you, you know, a sense of my feelings on there and unduly influence those proceedings.
Q: Two questions, sir. One is that when the RCBs were coming down, and they -- they deviated from the course right away. They were too far in-shore. Did they communicate at any time in those, what, three or four hours, with the -- there was a Coast Guard cutter that was refueling boat. Did they ever communicate with that vessel and talk about their location and course?
ADM. RICHARDSON: They did make the required reports during the transit every 30 minutes.
Q: But they didn't communicate their position during those?
ADM. RICHARDSON: Their position was communicated.
Q: And the Coast Guard cutter did not respond with any --
ADM. RICHARDSON: Their communication was back to the operations centers, and the investigation found that the operations centers did not properly plant or plot the track and keep the required oversight of where the boats were.
Q: So they didn't -- the op center did not communicate back to the RCBs that you were off-course, you're in a dangerous position?
ADM. RICHARDSON: That's right. One of the findings was that the operations center, you know, which is a squadron function, you know, the task force function, they were also found to be deficient in terms of their understanding of the intended track and their tracking of the actual track.
I would just add that the Coast Guard vessel did come up on the line and say, "It looks like these riverine" -- they saw them, you know, they had contact on them. "Looks like the riverine boats were off-track and were in Iranian waters as well."
So Coast Guard was aware of their position and did report that in.
ADM. RICHARDSON: -- and that's in -- that's in the investigation.
Q: (inaudible) -- these small boats in the Persian Gulf. And I know the Coast Guard -- the Coast Guard prides itself on seamanship and navigation.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Right.
Q: And that's sort of a point of contention.
ADM. RICHARDSON: We do to, Chris. This is an -- you know, this is an exception.
Q: All right. Have -- have -- since this incident, have RCBs been operating around Farsi Island and in the Northern Persian Gulf again?
ADM. RICHARDSON: I don't know, Lung do --.
ADM. AQUILINO: At this point, I don't think they've pushed them forward to Bahrain.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah.
ADM. AQUILINO: Or to Kuwait. They have operated out of Bahrain. But that is not a function of this event. There has just been no mission requirement.
Q: Carla Babb, Voice of America. Just to clarify, the only equipment failure was the engine? There were no communication failures, and the communication equipment was working the entire time?
ADM. RICHARDSON: There was an issue on one of the boats with the communication gear.
One of the boats was unable to establish encrypted communications over the horizon with the headquarters. The other boat's communications equipment was working fine.
Q: Can you -- can you say which one had the issue? Was it the one with the engine failure as well?
ADM. AQUILINO: We can get back to you on that.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yeah.
Q: You know, I know you don't want to get too far into your own personal opinion, but you know, what is the lasting damage of having images of sailors at gun point, by Iranian forces broadcast all over the world?
ADM. AQUILINO: Well, you know, that is obviously to be determined, David. But we will take that as -- as the, you know, the earlier question highlighted, and make sure that we learn every possible lesson out of this. And we'll make it vividly clear to the United States Navy, you know, what is the expected standard, and how to achieve that standard.
STAFF: Okay. We've got time for one more. Lucas.
Q: Admiral, have you spoken to your Iranian counterpart to voice your displeasure over the incident?
ADM. RICHARDSON: No.
Q: Has anyone?
ADM. AQUILINO: I --
ADM. RICHARDSON: I mean -- (inaudible) -- Secretary Kerry and sort of the State Department reaching out to them.
ADM. AQUILINO: We -- we made our -- our views clear in forums like this. But in terms of direct communication, you know, I'm not aware of anything beyond what Secretary Kerry did.
Q: (inaudible) -- the captains of both boats, 802 and 805are they both still awaiting their -- this -- whatever sort of punitive --
ADM. RICHARDSON: Yes, they are.
STAFF: Okay. Thank you very much.
ADM. RICHARDSON: Thanks.