I’m pleased to see the new Secretary of the Navy do some plain speaking.
The 10 deaths aboard the USS McCain last month and the seven aboard the USS Fitzgerald in June have many causes, which Spencer addressed in a Senate hearing yesterday. But the fundamental problem is a collision between a shrinking fleet, growing operational demands, and erratic funding for training and maintenance.
“When I said yesterday that the Navy has a problem and we’re going to fix it, (that means) we’re going to have to come to … some sort of balance between supply and demand,” said Spencer. “The COCOMs (Combatant Commanders) are going to have to understand it, and the Hill is going to have to understand it.”
The Navy has been operating according to a “false math… that we couldn’t afford,” the secretary said. “We have been punching way above our weight and possibly robbing Peter to pay Paul to get our missions done, and now the bills are coming home.”
Longstanding Navy culture will have to change, Spencer said, to make it acceptable to say “no, we can’t” when an already overtasked or undertrained unit is given a new mission. “You truly have an organization, as you all well know, that is biased to action and the word ‘no’ is just not in the lexicon,” Spencer said. “We have to find a balance … because the pure blind answer, yes, without assessing the risk is non sustainable.”
The accidents only make the problem worse by taking two ships out of circulation. The Fitzgerald will be in repairs for over a year. The McCain’s assessment is still ongoing but the damage looks to be less extensive. Repairing the two destroyers will cost an estimated $600 million, money which Spencer noted is not in the Navy budget. The service will have to ask Congress for supplemental funds, and “it’s going to have to be sooner rather than later,” Spencer said, almost certainly before the 2019 budget request in the spring.
In the medium term, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has prioritized plus-ups to readiness funding for all four services – in many cases deferring modernization. The goal is to catch up on the years of cancelled training and deferred maintenance that resulted from the 2011 Budget Control Act capping defense spending even as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq dragged on and new threats arose from China and Russia.
The long-term solution is a larger Navy. The fleet has shrunk from its 1987 high of 594 ships to 278 today, even while the number of ships deployed outside US home waters at any given time has stayed roughly constant at about 100. That means ships and sailors must deploy more often and for longer, putting more strain on humans and machines alike with less time for recovery and repair … Unless the demand for ships drops – which is unlikely – then the supply of ships must rise.
There’s more at the link.
I lay the blame equally at the doors of the politicians and the Navy’s senior leadership. Politicians wanted to have more money available for entitlement programs and other vote-getting projects, so they short-changed our armed services. The armed services, on the other hand, wanted the latest in flashy, gee-whiz hardware and weapons (e.g. the bloated, long-delayed, unbelievably expensive F-35 program), so they short-changed other elements of their responsibilities such as maintenance, training, etc. The result is damaged ships and dead sailors in 2017.
I worry about that in the light of the current crisis over North Korea. Are our armed forces really ready for action there? I guess there’s only one way to find out . . . and I hope and pray that doesn’t become necessary.