National Security

Navy Mismanagement of Carrier Force Bites America

From 15 to 10 carriers, and now the Ford may not deploy on time.

Harold Hutchison · Sep. 2, 2016
USS Gerald R. Ford

The Navy is in a world of hurt. It’s less than half the size it was when Ronald Reagan left office. Carrier air wings have fewer combat aircraft than they did in 1991 — about 33% less. We’ve gone from 15 carriers to 10. Now, the Navy’s newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), may not be able to deploy on time, leaving America short one more carrier.

That’s not a good thing. The ChiComs have played a Cersei Lannister gambit in the South China Sea — and that puts American allies like the Philippines in a bind. America also has to confront the presence of China’s DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile — which, while overhyped, still inflicts virtual attrition on a Navy with too few hulls.

How did we get here? First, the Navy chose to prematurely retire the USS Enterprise (CVN 65), banking on the Ford being ready to fill in. Even though Newport News Shipbuilding could have done a second overhaul on the Big E, the Obama administration ignored the growing threats from China, Iran (which has been harassing American ships), and the Islamic State (not to mention the fact that the Russian reset wasn’t quite working), and went ahead with the scrapping process. Second, the Obama administration began to scrap seven older carriers that were being kept in reserve.

Did we mention the world was getting more dangerous while we junk eight major strategic assets?

It took almost seven years from laying the Gerald R. Ford’s keel to getting her to this point, and even then, with all of the new technology on board — like the electromagnetic catapults, the AN/SPY-3 radar, and new arresting gear — it may take time even after she’s commissioned for her to be ready to deploy.

You’d think that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus would have acted to address this before it got too severe. But Mabus has been more interested in dissing Navy heroes who don’t buy into the politically correct changes in DOD policy he and others have been pushing.

Sadly, the Navy’s carrier force isn’t the only place where the mismanagement of our forces has been a continuing trend. Three of the Navy’s Freedom-class littoral combat ships have suffered damage to their engines. The Marine Corps has been struggling to find sufficient numbers of flyable F/A-18 Hornets. The Air Force is falling short of pilots. Army OH-58s are getting older as proposed replacements like the RAH-66 and ARH-70 fall victim to the budget axe. Even ground troops could see defense cuts rob them of the game-changing XM25 “Punisher,” officially known as the Counter Defilade Target Engagement (CDTE) System, even though it performed well in operational testing in Afghanistan.

Cuts like these, not to mention the onslaught of political correctness and social engineering, don’t just hurt the material performance of our troops. As Mark Alexander wrote Wednesday, they also kill the military’s most valuable resource — morale. That means troops, some with combat experience, may retire or not re-enlist, creating a vicious cycle of declining readiness due to subpar training due to loss of experience.

Reversing this trend won’t be easy, but it will be essential. Because an unprepared military invites aggression — which will be far more expensive in money, equipment and lives than it would have been to properly maintain our forces in the first place.

So how were those defense cuts a bargain, again?

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