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

T-NSIAD-91-2: Published: Nov 8, 1990. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1990.

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GAO discussed the explosion aboard the U.S.S. Iowa, focusing on: (1) an independent investigation of the Navy's technical analysis of the explosion; (2) equipment serviceability and safety; (3) manning and training issues; and (4) the battleship's employment plans and mission. GAO found that: (1) the Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory concluded that there was a plausible alternative scenario to the Navy's finding of an intentional act; (2) as a result of Sandia's findings, the Navy halted all firings of the 16-inch guns and initiated further testing; (3) the Navy and Sandia believed that the ban could be lifted by using a different propellant configuration and taking different management actions; (4) Sandia could not confirm or deny the Navy conclusion that foreign material residue found in the gun was evidence of a chemically activated detonator device; (5) the Navy's need to maintain two battleships was questionable; (6) there was no pattern of failures that indicated systematic problems with the guns and other turret equipment; (7) injury reports revealed no prior safety problems that could be related to the explosion; (8) Iowa personnel failed to follow approved procedures to ensure the safe firing of guns and improperly approved and conducted gunnery experiments; and (9) the Navy deployed the Iowa with significantly lower percentages of authorized supervisors and turret-related journeymen.

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' utility in the light of known constraints and limitations and, unless current Middle East operations convincingly demonstrate their unique utility, direct that the Secretary of the Navy decommission the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Wisconsin.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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