Naval Experts Offers Grim Assessment of Navy Readiness
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Decades of inadequate funding have left the Navy with too few and undermanned ships struggling to meet increasing operational demands, which has created a decline in material readiness and training that were a direct cause of the rash of ship accidents that plagued U.S. Seventh Fleet this year, and which pose a threat to the Navy’s ability to meet the growing strategic challenges.
Those were the stark assessments of a forum on U.S. seapower that included a House Armed Services Committee member, two retired senior Navy officers and a highly regarded naval analyst at the Hudson Institute on Nov. 9.
Seth Cropsey, director of Hudson’s Center for American Seapower, noted that the Navy lost 17 Sailors in the two recent at-sea collisions with merchant vessels in the Western Pacific and that investigations found in each case the Sailors were unprepared for the situations they faced.
“It is clear that the insufficiencies in training and skills played a big part” in the collisions involving the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, Cropsey said.
“That cannot be separated from the financial constraints the Navy is operating under,” he said.
Retired Rear Adm. James Stark also analyzed the two collisions and said, “for far too long, our naval forces have been saddled with far more [commitments] than they can handle.”
That led to systemic and long-term problems that led to those accidents, said Stark, who had served as commander of the Pacific Fleet Training Command and the NATO Standing Forces.
Bryan Clark, a retired Navy commander now with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, attributed the systemic problems the others mentioned to the fact that the Navy has shrunk by about 20 percent in the last decade, but has maintained the same level of about 100 ships forward deployed.
That means each ship is doing 20 percent more, which has resulted in longer and more frequent deployments, which means the ships do not have reliable schedules and can’t meet their regular maintenance availabilities, Clark said. That delayed work increases the cost of maintenance and creates problems at sea.
All three also noted that Navy end strength has been too low even for the reduced number of ships, which increases the demands on the crew members, lengthening work days and reducing training.
“In case of a conflict, the Navy risks sending exhausted Sailors on noncombat-certified ships,” Cropsey said, referring to the finding that most of the Seventh Fleet warships did not have all the required combat requirements certified.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., a former Marine intelligence officer now on the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said the undersized and over-stressed Navy created strategic threats in light of the growing challenges from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
A growing Chinese Navy and its anti-access strategy means the U.S. Navy will have to fight to obtain the sea control necessary for U.S.-based forces to get to a conflict.
“The longer it takes for decisive forces to fight their way across the Pacific, the longer a war would last” and the greater the losses, Gallagher said.
“Parity in seapower is a recipe for failure.”
Cropsey, who was releasing a new book titled “Seablindness, How Political Neglect is Choking American Seapower,” also cited the strategic threat of a weakened Navy and blamed the decline in naval power on a lack of political will in Washington, and refusal to face the need for greater defense spending to meet the growing threats.