There has been much talk in the last couple of years of building a 300 ship navy. Truly a Navy that size would be a great asset to the nation and to the world. Not only would it help project American influence all over the globe but would insure freedom of navigation for the world’s maritime commerce. After all, 70% of the globe is covered by water, 80% of the world’s commerce is moved on water and 90% of the world’s population lives within 200 miles of the sea. A strong Navy makes sense.
The sad fact is that a truly capable fleet is at the very least ten years out if we as a nation decide to take the steps necessary to make the vision a reality. That is a mighty big IF. I don’t see a whole lot of realistic discussion of the issues, much less a growing public awareness of what the challenges are and demand for resolution. Without that commitment to rebuilding the foundations of a strong Navy any shipbuilding program will be too little too late and billions of dollars – and hundreds if not thousands of lives – wasted.
What are the challenges? I list these in order of importance as I see it.
At the height of the Cold War we had fourteen naval shipyards, today we have four. Some of those are over 90 years old and desperately need upgrading to manage the needs of our modern fleet. Ships are beasts for maintenance and must spend a considerable amount of time in shipyards just to keep them running. As things stand our ships and aircraft are poorly maintained and are a danger to the sailors who man them. It is a national crime to ask them to go in harms way with gravely deteriorated hulls, propulsion, sensors, navigation, weapons and airframes. Our naval shipyards simply can’t cope with the fleet we have, we need more shipyards. Civilian shipyards cannot be realistically tasked to maintain naval vessels, the nature of the equipment is just too different. We need to at least double our naval maintenance capabilities, and that will take time and lots, and I do mean LOTS, of money.
The collisions of the USS McCain and the USS Fitzgerald last year may have been a wake up call to the Navy’s leadership. This report of the situation on the Fitzgerald is just utterly damning. Read it, read it all.
Poor leadership, inadequate training, crews run to exhaustion by operational tempo, faulty equipment, it is simply dreadful. Some that results from lack of maintenance, but the worst is the scandalous dereliction of senior and mid level leadership. The officer corps needs serious attention, as does crew training and discipline. These two ships are front line units and it can be safely inferred that the rot pervades the entire organization. This needs to be cleaned up before we can hope to man more ships with competent crews.
until it becomes a sort of bloated floating Swiss Army
knife that ultimately can’t perform any of its intended missions adequately. The above two ship types are prime examples of exactly that. The Arleigh Burke class destroyers and Ticonderoga class cruisers are getting long in the tooth and we don’t have an adequate replacement yet and won’t for years.
Meanwhile China has been busy. Their very efficient espionage service has long since penetrated our attempts at counter intelligence so that it can be reasonably expected that they know the details of every ship, aircraft, propulsion machinery, sensor platform and weapon system we’ve built or intended to build for the last 25 years. They have been building an increasingly effective navy with a good mix of new designs. They have been taking steps to secure their claim to everything from the Korean Peninsula to the Straits of Malacca as their national territorial waters including Taiwan. It is clear as they have watched our capabilities decline they have felt their star in the ascendant. And they are preparing for war.
Today we are not ready.