Is Our Navy Ready for the Fight on the Horizon?
Based on the current and projected force structure, our Navy will soon be unprepared for major warfare.
This week, one of our National Advisory Committee members, General B.B. Bell (Ret.), wrote about the ChiCom threat to Taiwan and the Pacific: “First and foremost, we must — must — make China fear our military presence in the Pacific. Today it does not. That fear begins with the rebuilding and expansion of our Navy.”
Indeed, it does.
As a retired Navy Surface Warfare Officer, a.k.a. “ship driver,” and professional military educator, I join many of my former Naval Academy colleagues with deep concerns about our Navy’s ability to wage war against a major adversary. I am even more concerned that our Navy could easily find itself fighting against two major adversaries and different fronts, plus any number of other less capable adversaries that might join in a global conflict to defeat the United States. Sea power has been a critical enabler of our success since the birth of the nation. Since 90% of our commerce is transported by sea, it is paramount that the sea lanes remain safe for merchant traffic. However, several relatively recent issues have put into question our Navy’s ability to protect our sea lanes.
First and foremost, the resources required to build, maintain, and man sufficient warships to counter potential adversaries are not being budgeted for and provided to the Navy. Even with the largest proposed budget in our nation’s history, the building of modern, highly capable warships and recruitment, training, and retention of the sailors to man them has taken a back seat to ancillary issues such as indoctrination through critical race theory and other “social justice” concerns.
Navy officers and sailors attached to ships, from the commanding officer down to the most junior sailor onboard, are perpetually busy either preparing the ship and all its systems and personnel for underway periods, or deploying. Their workload is something that has to be experienced to be fully understood. When they are not standing watch to monitor their environment, they are training, maintaining equipment, holding “field-days” (cleaning their spaces), or grabbing a quick meal and, hopefully, some portion of a night’s sleep. There are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. In view of this, the Navy’s leadership and their civilian masters owe it to their subordinates to ensure they have all the resources and training they need to operate their ships safely and to be prepared to fight, if required. Clearly, this is not happening to the level it should be.
In the recently completed assessment entitled, “A Report on the Fighting Culture of the United States Navy Surface Fleet,” which was conducted at the direction of Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Congressmen Mike Gallagher (R-WI), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) as an exercise in congressional oversight, the conclusions are eye-opening. Through extensive interviews of “numerous active-duty and recently retired or detached officers and enlisted personnel” regarding recent operational failures and accidents/incidents involving our surface ships, the report draws some dismal conclusions. Among these are “an insufficient focus on warfighting skills, the perception of a zero-defect mentality accompanied by a culture of micromanagement, and over-sensitivity and responsiveness to modern media culture. Structural issues identified include lack of resources and consistency in surface warfare training programs, and the Navy’s underwhelming commitment to surface ship maintenance.”
Considering how rapidly both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Russian Federation are modernizing and expanding their navies — as well as this year’s bilateral naval exercises, which included Iran — the United States cannot afford to allow its Navy to degrade. China, for decades, has been working on anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) technologies to force U.S. forces out of what they consider to be their backyard. The Commander Pacific Command, ADM Davidson, has stated that “China is now capable of controlling the South China Sea in all scenarios short of war with the United States.”
Our nation must build more modern and capable ships to counter our would-be adversaries and encourage/enable our regional allies to do the same. Both PRC and Russian Federation leaders have made it quite clear that they intend to regain “great power” status. And, unlike the early 1970s, during which the U.S. diplomatically sought to drive a wedge between the Soviet Union and the PRC, which had border skirmishes, Russia and China are working together to undo what the U.S. has done in the Western Pacific. The world is clearly shifting from a unipolar one, with the U.S. at the apex, to a multipolar one, perhaps with multiple adversaries allying to topple our nation. We cannot afford to be unprepared at sea, if and when this happens.
Will the Biden administration maintain the military momentum that was rekindled by the Trump administration? Thus far, it appears Biden is busy making sure our warfighters are woke, while he guts our warfighting capability. If he continues to retreat from the ChiCom threat, batten down the hatches.
Update: According to Defense News, the CNO has retreated from his previous assertion: “As you all know, the results of analysis done over the past five years – whether inside the Pentagon or outside – have been consistent and clear: America needs a larger, more capable fleet. Our latest Future [Naval Force Structure] assessment provided the headlights not only for the size of our future fleet, but importantly for the composition of that fleet, the capabilities that it brings to the joint force. If the Navy’s top-line remains flat or goes down further, the size of our fleet will definitely shrink.” Instead, the man who is supposed to be a major proponent for ensuring our maritime forces are sufficient to ensure our national security and honor our treaties with allies, has decided that a “smaller fleet” will be good enough. Even though a 355 ship Navy is a matter of law, under the Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Act, our current Navy has fewer than 300 warships. Historically, when Democrats are in power, the military’s budget suffers and social programs are increased, in the old “bullets and bombs vs. beans and butter” dynamic. However, in the face of massive shipbuilding programs by our rising near-peer adversaries of China and the Russian Federation, a decision not to increase our own shipbuilding programs is a foolhardy one, which endangers our nation and our allies and partners around the globe.
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