Issues Arising From the Explosion Aboard the U.S.S. Iowa

NSIAD-91-4: Published: Jan 29, 1991. Publicly Released: Jan 29, 1991.

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Martin M. Ferber
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined issues concerning the April 1989 explosion aboard the U.S.S. Iowa and the overall battleship program, focusing on: (1) the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory's independent review of the Navy's technical analysis of the explosion; (2) the serviceability, supportability, and safety of ammunition and equipment; (3) personnel manning levels and training; and (4) battleship employment plans and missions.

GAO found that: (1) Sandia could neither confirm nor deny the Navy's conclusion that a deliberate act caused the explosion, nor could it prove or disprove the Navy's contention that foreign material on the rotating band of the projectile was evidence of an improvised explosive device; (2) Sandia believed that a high-speed overram of the powder bags, combined with the impact sensitivity of the powder, could have caused the explosion; (3) there were no indications of any chemical stability problems or other problems with the type of propellant involved in the explosion; (4) there was no evidence of any systematic or unusual serviceability or safety problems aboard the battleships; (5) battleships generally had a disproportionately low percentage of supervisory personnel manning levels, and battleship personnel generally had lower job performance ratings; (6) Iowa personnel did not follow safety policies and procedures and conducted improperly approved gunpowder experimentation at the time of the explosion; (7) it could not determine the adequacy of personnel training, since training records were destroyed in the explosion, never existed, or were missing; (8) training deficiencies included the lack of an approved battleship gun weapon system training plan, limited hands-on training aids, and inadequate external oversight of the Iowa's 16-inch gun personnel qualifications program; and (9) changing military doctrine and budget constraints limited the battleships' utility and made them top candidates for decommissioning.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The U.S.S. Wisconsin was deactivated on September 30, 1991. The U.S.S. Missouri was deactivated on April 1, 1992.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to reevaluate the battleships' usefulness in the light of known constraints and limitations and, unless current Middle East operations convincingly demonstrate their unique utility in support of an amphibious assault, to decommission the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Wisconsin.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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