American Navy declining

Staff Columnist

Today’s 272 – ship fleet isn’t nearly enough.  The U.S. needs 350 ships to meet the rising global dangers.

“Late last week China confirmed that it is building its first aircraft carrier from scratch, adding to a fleet that includes a Russian-made carrier.  The news cast U.S. military policy in a particularly unsettling light: While China’s naval power expands, America has deliberately reduced its presence on the seas.  The Navy – after nearly $1 trillion of Defense Department cuts, in part mandated by the 2011 budget sequestration deal between Congress and the Obama administration – is already down to 272 ships.  That means the U.S. fleet is less than half its size at the close of the Reagan administration nearly 30 years ago (and down by 13 ships since 2009).”  (By Seth Cropsey,  S.O.S. for a declining American Navy.   ( The Wall Street Journal,  Thursday, January 7, 2016)

This article sounds some serious alarms, especially just days after the two nations flanking the Persian Gulf broke diplomatic relations.  (Our Saudi friends refer to this strategic waterway as the Arabian Gulf.)  I ran this Journal piece past my now ex naval officer, a trained nuclear officer Son, with service on a strategic missile submarine.  I quote Sean here.

“Interesting article. But I suspect it will fall on deaf ears

The replacement costs to replace the Ohio Class SSBN’s alone will break the Navy’s shipbuilding budget

This will require strong leadership and even stronger budgetary leadership

Sad that in less than one generation we are literally repeating what we did to build up to the 600-ship Navy and we are not even aiming for such a lofty goal. Was the high water mark for the US Navy really in the late 80’s early 90’s??”

Mr. Cropsey continues, “ The Navy had intended to increase the fleet to 308 ships, including 12 that will replace the nation’s aging ballistic-missile submarine deterrent.  But in  a mid-December memo, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the Navy to cut the number of ships it plans to build in favor of placing more- advanced technology aboard the existing fleet.

Secretary Carter’s plan implies that the deterrent effect of a constant U.S. presence in the world is less important than the Navy’s ability to fight and win wars with the advanced weapons he favors.  That assumption is mistaken.  We need both the ability to be present, which demands more ships than we have, and the related power to win a war if deterrence doesn’t work.  Even the Navy’s now-endangered plan for 308 new ships was far below the 350 combat ships needed to achieve this aim.”

“With danger rising around the world from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea, the increasing military and economic threats cannot be ignored.  Here is what an expansion of the Navy to the 350 ships needed to safeguard national security would look like:

*Aircraft Carriers, Applying power requires the anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare, surveillance and strike ability of aircraft carriers.  It requires an increase from the congressionally legislated level if 11 carriers to 16, enough so that we could maintain at least one carrier strike group in the western Pacific, the Persian Gulf, and return powerful U.S. naval forces to the Mediterranean.

*Supply Ships, The ability to shape events on land is linked to the ability to operate independently of it.  Supply ships assure this.  The U.S. currently has 29 such vessels but needs to double the number so that it can provision  a larger fleet in the western Pacific and return to the Mediterranean in strength.

*Submarines, The Pentagon’s annual report last April on Chinese military power predicts that China will have between 69 and 78 submarines by 2020.  The U.S. expects to have about 70 submarines in the same year.  Yet repairs, maintenance and rotational cycles mean that only about 25% can be deployed at a time and must be spread around the world.

The U.S. will likely retain its qualitative advantage, but the size and quietness of China’s submarine fleet means that America needs a total of 90 submarines to provide a healthy nuclear deterrent, shadow or hunt enemy subs, assure dominance in the western Pacific, and meet additional global challenges.

*Amphibious craft.  Increased Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean  and that of China and Iran as well as Islamic State’s occupation of Sirte on the Libyan coast also demand a return to the amphibious presence that the U.S. maintained during the Cold War. The possibility that China would seize and hold islands in the western Pacific as a means of extending its strategic reach also emphasizes the need for greater amphibious capability.  The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps should have 45 ships for these missions, an increase of nearly 50% over the current level.

*Large surface combatants, destroyers and cruisers.  These remain the U.S. fleet’s backbone.  They hunt for subs and other surface ships, project power inland, and protect-and are protected by aircraft carriers.  For the foreseeable future they will be the main defense against proliferating missiles that can be launched against ships from land, air, and sea.  Weighing China’s ability to concentrate naval forces in its adjacent seas against the U.S.’s global commitments, a total of 100 large surface commitments – an increase from the planned 88 – is the minimum required to protect each of America’s 16 carriers with five ships.

*Small combatant ships.  Defense Secretary Carter wants to cut the number of small naval combatants, called littoral combat ships (LCS) to 40 from 52.  Even in its upgraded version the LCS falls short of the ability both to defend itself and take the fight to an enemy.  Instead of building 40 ill-defended combatants, the Navy needs a minimum of 30 new small combatants that possess areal frigate’s offensive and defensive ability.

*High-speed vessels. Current plans are right when they call for 11 of the low-cost, unarmed and fast twin-hulled ships that can transport small Army or Marine units along with their equipment.”

Mr. Cropsey concludes, “The fleet described here would number 350 ships, about 240 ships fewer than the Russian Navy, and 13% larger than the combat fleet  the Navy currently seeks.  Using the Congressional Budget Office’s cost estimates, this would require an annual $24 billion shipbuilding expense.  That means a 45% increase of the current $16.5 billion ship-building budget, or an added $7.5 billion yearly to the shipbuilding portion of the Navy’s budget to reach a 350-ship by 2045.  China’s shipbuilding plans, as well as other global challenges, show why a larger fleet is needed sooner than 30 years from now.”

Expensive, eh?  As Sean pointed out in this column, the replacement costs to replace the Ohio Class SSBNs will break the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

Nobody said this would be easy.







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