Military leaders who oversee major commands around the world are asking the Navy for help.
But they are not requesting big aircraft carriers or tomahawk missiles. More often than not, they seek naval expertise in nontraditional missions such as training foreign navies to protect their coastlines.
The rising demand for naval capabilities is good news for a service that has struggled to define its role in post 9/11 military operations and has in recent years rewritten its strategic blueprints to adjust to the new environment. But the service also is becoming a victim of its own success because it does not have enough ships to send everywhere the Navy is needed, officials said at a recent conference of the Surface Navy Association.
“To say we’re globally persistent is a misnomer because we are not everywhere we need to be,” said Vice Adm. Bernard J. McCullough III, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources.
“To provide these new capabilities, we need the budget,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
He pointed out that the Navy’s recent successes with soft power missions, such as the USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy hospital ships’ cruises in Southeast Asia and Latin America, required the scraping of funds from various accounts, including emergency appropriations. Beginning in 2010, the Navy plans to establish a $250 million account solely for humanitarian and other nontraditional operations, he added.
“The capacity of our fleet, the numbers of ships that we have, matters greatly today, and I believe will matter even more in the future,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead. The Navy is seeking to build a fleet of at least 313 ships, but currently has 283.
At the heart of the Navy’s plans to expand the fleet is the littoral combat ship, which is designed to ply near-shore waters. Despite escalating costs on the first two ships, the Navy remains “firmly committed” to the program and intends to build 55, McCullough said. The first ship, USS Freedom, was commissioned late last year and is being tested by the fleet. It will deploy in 2012.
Originally envisioned as a $220 million ship, the LCS was expected to attract overseas buyers.
But because the lead vessels from both builders, General Dynamics Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., are coming in at more than double the touted price tag, potential buyers are looking at other options.
“Great ship,” said Capt. Yoram Laks, naval attaché at the Embassy of Israel. But, “it costs a lot.”
His counterparts from other nations concurred.
“We don’t have the luxury to have a little combat ship that will do LCS stuff,” said Capt. Al Garceau, naval attaché at the Embassy of Canada. “We also need ships to go blue water, to go internationally.” He added that the Canadian navy has a growing portfolio of maritime responsibilities, such as monitoring the region around the Arctic Circle, for which it is building patrol ships to cut through three feet of ice.
Without international sales, the LCS could become too much of a financial burden for the U.S. Navy’s strained shipbuilding budget.
The Navy has been leasing several commercial ships, such as the joint high-speed vessel, to bolster its fleet in the short term. “There’s an increasing demand level for these type of ships,” said McCullough. Their smaller hulls make them a fitting platform for soft-power missions, officials said.
Regardless of whether the U.S. Navy can boost its fleet in the foreseeable future, it will be asking allies to increase participation in multinational operations.
Most nations, however, are facing their own set of budget constraints that may delay international cooperation, officers noted.
The Canadian navy is confronting aging fleet issues similar to that of the U.S. Navy. It must modernize its submarines and all 12 of its Halifax-class ships. It also plans to replace its surface fleet of frigates, destroyers and support ships.
India, too, is facing budgetary challenges, said Commodore Monty Khanna, naval attaché for the Embassy of India. He said his country needs to build capacity in shipyards in order to ramp up shipbuilding.
A recent surge of hijackings by pirates off the Horn of Africa has highlighted the need for well-equipped, well-positioned ships that can protect the flow of commerce.
“If you’d said two years ago that there was going to be a place in the ocean in the world where the E.U., NATO, Malaysia, India, Russia, China, and United States are all going to be working in a cooperative way toward a common problem, we would probably have all been scratching our heads trying to figure out where it was going to be,” said Roughead.
The success of the Navy hinges on three simple words: build more ships, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., told the symposium.
He said China is building an average of 25 ships per year, compared to the U.S. average of five to eight per year.
Building more ships is critical “if we want to continue our level as leader in global maritime security,” Martinez said.
In addition to building more ships, the Navy also has to ensure that sailors have the proper skills, Greenert said. “We can provide the money for the ships and man them, but we’ve got to develop the skill sets, so that as we send our people forward and they interact with the navies and the population, that we’re not sending the wrong signal.”
The Navy has discovered that it needs to teach sailors how to pass along their knowledge and skills to partner nations. In Iraq, for example, riverine units initially were deployed to provide security for the Marines in Anbar province by patrolling the Euphrates River and waterways near Haditha Dam. But as they worked side by side with their Iraqi counterparts, they realized that what they needed to do was to train those forces to police their own rivers, said Greenert. That is a skill that is not always emphasized.
The training curriculum, which traditionally has centered on carrier strike group operations, is undergoing changes. At Fleet Forces Command, officials are rewriting courses to focus on preparing sailors who may be part of smaller groups or even single-ship deployments on non-combat missions.
“We’re not using a cookie-cutter approach to make everything fit. We’re trying to adapt,” Capt. Ray Clark, head of the fleet training policy and standards branch, told National Defense.
Deploying units are receiving advanced training in cultural awareness and other skills suitable for the region in which they will operate.
Many sailors learn languages via online courses and they receive further instruction from regional security educational teams, comprising cultural experts from the Naval Postgraduate School and other organizations, prior to deployment, said Mark Morrison, assistant branch head.
The goal is to balance conventional combat with nontraditional skills, said Vice Adm. William Crowder, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy. “The ability to win in combat is the core of the United States Navy. Credibly demonstrating that ability is key to deterring bad behavior,” he said. “But our Navy also has the capability, capacity and, you might even say responsibility, to help prevent the wars.”
As part of a concept known as “global fleet stations,” a single ship or a small group of vessels deploy for several months to a region and work with host nations.
“Persistent presence versus episodic engagement is paying big dividends,” said Capt. Cynthia Thebaud, commander of the Africa Partnership Station. She and a 75-member team, including 17 officers from 10 African countries, deployed to West Africa aboard the USS Nashville in January.
They are conducting professional exchanges with nations there in seamanship, search-and-rescue operations, environmental stewardship, fisheries management, maritime awareness, law enforcement, medical evacuation and navigation, among others.
“You have to go there and be there to understand the environment and be able to make a difference,” she said.
Similar efforts are ongoing in the Pacific as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America.