Although the U.S. military will see budget reductions over the next five years, naval forces should be protected from draconian cuts because their global responsibilities will be growing, says a new report by the Navy League of the United States.
“In light of the new national defense strategy’s emphasis on the Asia-Pacific and continued presence in the Middle East, the need for maritime forces that are forward deployed, forward engaged and ever-ready to respond is more critical now than ever before,” says Navy League Executive Director Dale Lumme.
The report, titled “Maritime Primacy and Economic Prosperity,” calls for additional resources for the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, U.S.-flag Merchant Marine, and for the shipbuilding industry.
The Navy League’s case for greater support of maritime forces echoes arguments that Navy leaders have made repeatedly over the past three decades, as the fleet steadily shrank from the Cold War peak of 600 ships to its current size of 285. The report contends that, regardless of whether the United States is at war or peace, naval forces are needed “to deter aggression, fight when necessary, sustain freedom of the seas and rapidly respond to crises.” Sea lanes and shore infrastructure carry more than 94 percent of world trade, the study says.
The report advocates a minimum fleet size of 305 ships. That number is close to what the Navy is expected to recommend in an upcoming “force structure review.” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said last week that he anticipates the Navy will set a goal of about 300 ships for 2020.
The current five-year budget — which forecasts about $15 billion a year for new ships — keeps the fleet at 285 vessels through 2017.
A 305-ship inventory would include 11 aircraft carriers, 55 Littoral Combat Ships, 50 attack submarines, 12 next-generation ballistic-missile submarines, 38 amphibious ships and several new DDG 51 destroyers. More ships are needed not only for the Navy but also for the Marine Corps and the Coast Guard, the Navy League says. Although the Coast Guard is part of the Department of Homeland Security, its duties are aligned with the Navy’s. “The Coast Guard’s mission portfolio has grown. … And it needs a more robust acquisition budget of at least $2.5 billion per year to continue modernization efforts, particularly a fleet in which the majority of ships are more than 40 years old,” the Navy League says. The entire Coast Guard’s budget for 2013 is about $10 billion.
The report also makes a plea on behalf of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine, as commercial and government-owned vessels provided a significant assist to the military for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Domestic jobs also are a legitimate reason to protect the maritime industry, the Navy League contends. “The ships and equipment needed to operate forward around the globe are built in shipyards, aircraft factories, electronics plants and other industrial activities spread across all 50 states.”
Naval shipbuilding averages $15 billion per year, while procurement of military maritime equipment in general is well over $50 billion annually, with more than 23,000 suppliers and 7 million employees reliant on Navy contracts.
The cautionary tone of the Navy League report contrasts with other assessments that declared the U.S. Navy the winner of the fiscal year 2013 Pentagon budget wars.
Defense industry analyst Loren Thompson says that in the current budget climate, the Navy should be relieved that it has so far escaped with modest cuts. "The Obama administration commits itself to sustaining the current force of 11 large-deck aircraft carriers and 10 carrier air wings. It also says it will preserve the amphibious fleet that enables the Marines to conduct forcible-entry operations. And it makes surface warships equipped with the Aegis combat system the centerpiece of future missile-defense efforts," Thompson writes in a February editorial. "Important new land-attack missions are assigned to the submarine fleet too. The size of the Marine Corps is trimmed by 20,000 personnel, but that is much less than the 80,000 soldiers being cut from the Army."
The number of warships the Navy had planned to build over the next five years is being cut significantly — from over 50 to barely 40, says Thompson. "However, if you look at how those reductions are being implemented, the Navy loses almost nothing in the way of real fighting capability — the most important surface vessels that were deleted are simply shifted to future years, so there is little long-term impact on Navy plans. And unlike in the case of the land-based services, the administration is planning to expand the Navy’s overseas presence in places like Singapore."