Officials Debate Operational Demands, Fleet Size, Budget Uncertainty
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
WASHINGTON — Current and former senior Navy Department officials agreed Dec. 4 that the primary focus must be ensuring the fleet can fight and win the next war, and that current operational demands are too great for the existing force. But they disagreed on whether the answer was to reduce the operational demands and focus on maintaining the capabilities of what they have or increasing the fleet as quickly as possible.
The officials, speaking at a U.S. Naval Institute forum, also agreed that either approach to addressing the current combat readiness problems and excessive operational tempo is handicapped by the reduced and uncertain funding resulting from the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and congressional gridlock.
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said the Navy has lost $4 billion in spending power because of the inefficiencies caused by repeated use of continuing resolutions (CRs), such as the one currently in effect that expires on Dec. 8.
Robert O. Work, a former undersecretary of the Navy and deputy defense secretary, said he believed the impact of the CRs was much greater than $4 billion. And Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William F. Moran estimated that CRs and the 2012 sequestration forced by the BCA took $100 million from expected Navy funding.
Those officials, and a panel of retired senior Navy officials, generally agreed that the string of at-sea accidents that plagued U.S. Seventh Fleet this year was the result of systemic problems in the surface force, rather than just deficiencies by the ships’ commanders, and affected more than just the Japan-based fleet.
Spencer said there were readiness issues in the Navy and the Marine Corps, but he was “confident we will successfully resolve all of them.” He said the naval services’ “technological advantages are real, but they are diminishing” as potential adversaries get stronger.
“We will answer these challenges,” he said.
Spencer said the answer to the excessive operational demands, which a Navy review said contributed to the Seventh Fleet accidents, was to build the fleet to the 355-ship goal while maintaining the existing ships.
“I don’t know what the fleet of future will look like, but I do know we won’t get it unless we start building,” he said.
Work, who left the Pentagon this spring, said the military “has to devote itself to one thing only — to be prepared and ready to fight and win our nation’s wars.”
He disagreed with Spencer that the nation has lost its conventional advantage over Russia and China, but said the military had to focus more on its capabilities to fight in cyber, space and the electromagnetic spectrum. He also stressed the necessity to complete the expensive modernization of all three legs of the nuclear deterrent force.
But, he warned, “we cannot count on increased budgets.”
Moran, the final speaker, said that as vice CNO he “focused every day on what it takes to fight and win. … We need more money. We need money we can count on more than anything. More delays in budgets, more continuing resolutions, are not what we need.”
Noting that “we have the smallest navy in 100 years. Moran said, “we cannot do what we are being asked to do.”
While calling for funding that would allow increasing the fleet, he said, “the fastest way to build capacity is to maintain what we have. We’re not resourced to maintain the ships we have.”
A panel of three retired Navy captains and retired Vice Adm. Peter H. Daly endorsed findings by the Navy’s comprehensive review of the Seventh Fleet accidents that the intense operational tempo resulted in crew fatigue and lack of training, which contributed to the mishaps. But they also complained about Navy cuts in surface warfare training that resulted in Navy-wide problems.
They also objected to the review’s focus on poor seamanship and navigation, which raised bigger issues of the ability to fight a complex war.