Yes: Navy must repair, expand its fleet to meet mounting global challenges
In 1979, Capt. Tom Shanahan, commanding officer of the USS Canisteo, did something no U.S. Navy officer had done since the Revolutionary War. He refused to take his ship to sea.
It wasn't mutiny. Shanahan declined to certify the ship and crew as seaworthy. The Canisteo was short-staffed, its crew inadequately trained.
Shanahan's stand sparked a firestorm of public controversy over the “hollowing out” of the American military, which occurred after the Vietnam War.
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Today, history looks to be repeating itself.
Recent collisions involving U.S. naval ships at sea and a spate of U.S. Air Force accidents have heightened already high concerns about how chronic underfunding of our armed forces over the last six years has eroded readiness and raised risks among those in uniform.
These concerns are well-founded. While defense spending soared after 9/11, the lion’s share went to pay for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan — not to refurbish the force fighting the war. Investments to rebuild our military never got made.
The pace of deployment has remained high, even as the number of troops has been cut and spending on repairs and training have been scaled back. In the Navy, for example, some of the maintenance backlog for deferred repairs goes back four years.
The problem is bigger than just unready ships, pilots and crews. The U.S. military is too small to cover the missions it has been assigned. While it is true our Navy has some of the best ships on the planet, each of those ships can be in only one place at a time.
Insufficient force size, combined with insufficient resources to keep the force ready, much less modernize it, leaves the Navy and other services sailing into a perfect storm of unpreparedness.
Here is what the Navy needs.
First, we need to think ahead. The ships we build today will constitute the majority of the fleet in the 2030s and beyond. Currently, the Navy has 277 ships.
The Navy says it needs 355 — assuming it will be able to build more-capable ships. Some outside experts say as many as 459 ships will be required.
Regardless of future ship and platform capabilities, the fleet will need to grow. And it must start growing now to keep up with missions to protect vital U.S. interests. Those interests span the seven seas, extending even to the upper reaches of the Arctic.
The Navy wouldn’t have to cover all that water if the sea lanes were safe. Keeping them secure and open is vital to the prosperity of our nation, our allies, and indeed, most everyone in the world.
Of the world’s 195 nations, 147 border an ocean or sea. Forty percent of the world’s population lives within 63 miles of an oceanic coast. In addition, maritime trade via international shipping lanes comprises over 90 percent of global commerce.
What goes on under the sea is important, too. Ninety-nine percent of all international data conveyed via phone, texts, and internet are transported via approximately 200 undersea fiber optic cables at speeds eight times faster than by satellite.
Yet today, China poses a growing maritime security threat in the South China Sea and the Pacific. A resurgent Russian Navy has established new bases in Syria and the Arctic while cementing its hold in Crimea. Threats from Iran and North Korea are growing as well.
America has a long to-do list to meet these challenges. At a minimum, it must sustain a modern force of 12 aircraft carriers. It must develop and deploy a new frigate-class ship as well as a next-generation platform for destroyers. Most critical of all, it must retain its competitive advantage in undersea warfare.
And did I mention readiness?
James Jay Carafano is the director of the Center for Foreign Policy Studies and the deputy director of the Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank on Capitol Hill. Readers may write to him at Heritage, 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Washington, D.C., 20002-4999.
No: Prioritize infrastructure spending over our first-in-class Navy
The U.S. Navy’s current program to modernize its fleet has only one sure outcome. It will cost a bundle. Whether it will enhance the security of the United States is anyone’s guess.
We already have just under 300 naval ships. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump said he wants 350.
Why? It’s not as if we’re trailing other countries.
We have 10 large amphibious assault ships, 22 cruisers, 76 destroyers and 52 attack submarines. That is far more than any other navy in the world. In fact, to get a fleet as large as ours, you would have to put together the world’s next four largest navies.
Then there are the aircraft carriers. The new USS Gerald R. Ford was delivered to the U.S. Navy a few weeks ago. Years behind schedule, it had been under construction since 2007. It has had trouble with both launches and landings of jet planes on its deck. This despite cost overruns that brought its price tag to $13 billion.
Spending wisely does not seem to be in the U.S. Navy’s logbook. The Navy is not content with the Ford. It wants three more aircraft carriers just like it. To hazard a guess at their eventual price tag, you can start at $40 billion and count up from there.
Aircraft carriers seem formidable. But war games have demonstrated that anti-ship weaponry is getting more sophisticated. It is not clear that aircraft carriers are as safe as they used to be.
How many aircraft carriers does the United States need? Let’s say we should have more than China. We already have 10 or 11, depending on how you count. China has just one. How about Russia? It too has only one, and even that one is not counted by some experts.
One oft-stated source of concern for the U.S. Navy is China’s activity in the South China Sea. China is enlarging reefs and bringing in its military. But whatever China may be doing there, it is not clear we need fancy new ships to deal with it.
China, to be sure, is upping its production of destroyers. But it is hard to imagine a World War II style naval confrontation, regardless of how things go in the South China Sea.
The risk to our own sailors is often overlooked in discussions about naval strength. Seven sailors died when a container ship rammed the USS Fitzgerald destroyer off Japan in June. Ten more died on the USS John S. McCain destroyer when it was hit by an oil tanker near Singapore this month.
It is hard to find a reason to give their parents why the risk to these young men was worth taking.
As they cruise, our naval vessels don’t advertise their presence the way commercial ships do, so they are a hazard to civilian shipping. They try to keep other navies from seeing them but that means that commercial vessels can’t readily spot them either.
When President Trump or the Congress throw around numbers for military expenditures, they avoid saying what else could be done with that money.
The funds projected for modernizing the U.S. Navy could repair our nation’s bridges, dams and highways, and perhaps bring safe drinking water throughout the country.
We live in a world of limited resources. New Orleans and Miami are at risk of sinking, and after Hurricane Harvey, the eastern coast of Texas isn’t looking too secure either.
The Republican-led Congress does not like big government. But that attitude evaporates when it comes to military programs. They need to be assessed like any other expenditure.
John B. Quigley is a professor emeritus of law at Ohio State University and an author of numerous books on international law. Readers may write him at Moritz College of Law, 55 W. 12th Ave., Columbus, Ohio, 43210-1391.