Despite Budget Crunch, Navy Will Resist Cuts in Aircraft Carrier Fleet

By Sandra I. Erwin
A Pentagonstrategic reviewwill seek to cut $400 billion from thedefense budget over the next 12 years. The Navy expects to bear some of the sacrifice, but it does not intend to back away from its global presence or shrink its fleet of 11 aircraft carriers, said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
One of the lessons from the war in Libya is that the Navy demonstrated “how flexible and global our fleet is,” Mabus told reporters April 27. “We give options to the president in terms of the use of military force.”
An upcoming examination of military roles and missions will look for functions that could be eliminated because they are no longer relevant or affordable. One or more branches of the military also might have to reduce force and fleet sizes if it’s determined that certain functions are being duplicated by more than one service. While the review may raise questions about “overlapping” functions, the overall U.S. military strategy of being “forward deployed” is not likely to change, Mabus said. “The U.S. needs to be a global power.”
A combination of 11 Navy aircraft carriers and 11 Marine Corps amphibious “big deck” ships gives the United States a wide range of options, Mabus said. “Carriers give us incredible flexible platforms” for combat and for humanitarian relief, he said. “The people of Japan would agree.”
How the Navy and Marine Corps employ aircraft carriers may evolve over time, he said. “But the number of platforms we have now is about right.”
A versatile ship such as an aircraft carrier is expensive but it offers an insurance policy against unpredictable threats, Mabus said. Every four years, Pentagon strategists attempt to predict the future in the Quadrennial Defense Review. “Very bright people work on it,” but they are wrong almost every time, he said. “Instead of trying to figure out every threat, we ought to be focusing on the versatility of platforms and people, regardless of what threat comes over the horizon.”
The defense review, however, will have to eliminate some missions to achieve the $400 billion goal set by President Obama, Mabus noted. “It can't just be a math exercise … You need to look at America's role, the missions we want the military to carry out … Then put people and forces against those missions.”
How the Defense Department will go about trimming the budget remains to be seen. Analysts point out that $400 billion over 12 years is hardly draconian, and mostly is about slowing down the rapid rate of spending growth experienced since 9/11. Critics have called for the Pentagon to make a much larger contribution to reducing the federal deficit.
Retired Army Col. Douglas Macgregor, a military analyst and proponent of a smaller military, says massive budget reductions are needed to shore up America's financial future. In a recentarticle in Foreign Policy, Macgregor says Obama’s $400 billion target falls way short. “The message for Republicans and Democrats alike should be that cutting defense doesn't mean going defenseless. It means reducing America's commitments overseas -- the latter-day version of ‘imperial overstretch’ -- and changing the way the United States thinks about warfare. There's a way to do this, one that will allow for deep spending cuts, but in a manner that will preserve and enhance the U.S. military's competitive advantages while improving American national security.”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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