Stackley: ‘A Key Factor in Readiness is the Size of the Force’
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON — A crucial part of fixing the readiness crisis confronting the Navy and the Marine Corps is to increase the size of the force, the acting Navy secretary believes.
“We have to recognize that a key factor in readiness is the size of the force,” acting secretary Sean Stackley said May 11. “You cannot rebuild readiness when the force is deploying at the current high pace.
He noted that more than one-third of the Navy’s available ships are deployed currently and the Marines are operating on a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of deployment-to-dwell. That leaves little time to train adequately, Stackley told the annual meeting of the U.S. Naval Institute.
Stackley also cited the overall shortage of resources, which has required the naval services to focus on meeting the needs of the deploying units, leaving those at home without the equipment they need to prepare.
Despite the high operating tempo that has persisted since the 9/11 terrorists attacks, “unfortunately, particularly since passage of the  Budget Control Act, the budgets have not kept pace.”
Stackley said the greatly delayed fiscal 2017 funding bill provided some relief, but the Defense Department was counting on the still unreleased fiscal 2018 budget to make bigger steps to fix the readiness problems.
A key part of that would be increasing the size of the fleet. Stackley strongly supported the Navy’s latest force structure plan that called for growing the fleet from the current 276 ships to 355. He emphasized the need for more submarines, more surface combatants and growing to 12 aircraft carriers, from the current 10.
Stackley, who had been the Navy acquisition executive, noted that Defense Secretary James Mattis has tasked him to lead the realignment of the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) office.
He said he is a strong advocate of Congress’ controversial decision to split AT&L and create a separate undersecretary for research and engineering, because the U.S. military is in danger of losing the technological advantage it has had since the end of World War II.
The reform of AT&L, he said, would raise the importance of technology and help rebuild the capabilities needed to maintain that lead. But to head the new research office, he said, “we don’t need a technocrat, we need leaders.”
In his speech and a later session with reporters, Stackley supported the Navy’s decision to reconsider the plan to develop a version of the littoral combat ship (LCS) into a frigate and start an open acquisition program for the new small warship. He said the Navy would put out its requirements and let the shipyards provide their proposals.
The key requirements were more air defense systems, more electronic warfare capabilities and greater survivability, he said. The proposed frigate had to be based on a current ship and not a new design, he added.
Although the decision has generated concern from the two LCS shipbuilders, Stackley said they had an advantage of having hot production lines.
Stackley said the competition would be open to a foreign frigate design, but stressed that it would have to meet the Navy’s strict requirements and would have to be built in the United States.
On another controversial program, Stackley said the next-generation carrier, Gerald R. Ford, was expected to go to sea for Navy acceptance trials this summer, after discrepancies revealed in the builder’s trials are corrected.
Stackley tried to avoid questions on President Donald Trump’s recent criticism of Ford’s revolutionary electro-magnetic catapults, but said the Navy has not had a chance to brief the president on the new system, which has been plagued with performance problems.