Navy Secretary: Value of Forward Presence Seen in Fight Against Islamic State

By Valerie Insinna

The Navy has spent about $100 million on operations targeting the Islamic State, including air and cruise missile strikes, the secretary of the Navy said Sept. 30.

That expenditure — which has primarily been funded through overseas contingency operation money — is in addition to the cost of maintaining a carrier strike group and amphibious ready group in the Persian Gulf, which the service does on a continuous basis, Ray Mabus told reporters.

The ongoing mission against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq illustrates why having a constant forward presence in the region is so important, Mabus said.
"Because we were already there, we could move almost instantly when the president gave the order,” he said. “We can stay as long as we need to stay based on the normal rotation of our ships.”

The Navy continues to fly air strikes — albeit at a slower rate than when the campaign started — and surveillance missions, Mabus said. He estimated that the service has flown 25 percent of the U.S. military’s missions. It has also fired a total of 47 Tomahawk missiles.

All of that adds up to incremental expenses, mostly on weapons and fuel, he said. "We're flying more missions then we would have been flying, but it's mainly the weapons” that make up the bulk of costs.

The Nimitz-class carrier USS Carl S. Vinson is slated to move into the region in the next few weeks to relieve the currently deployed USS George H.W. Bush, he said.

The Persian Gulf will continue to be a hot spot for the Navy, but the service plans to boost its presence in the Asia-Pacific in the coming years. Today, it deploys about 55 percent of its forces to the region, but by 2020 that will increase to about 60 percent, Mabus said.

“We’re sending a lot of our newest platforms there,” including the littoral combat ship, P-8 maritime multi-mission aircraft and the USS America, the service’s newest amphibious assault ship, he said.

The Navy plans on deploying an additional amphibious ready group to the region, and will double the number of Marines in Darwin, Australia, to about 2,400, he said. It will also deploy the third LCS, the USS Fort Worth, to Singapore later this year, Mabus said.

Critics have blasted the littoral combat ship for years, charging that the vessel is too expensive and not survivable enough in combat. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the service to pause the 52-vessel program to evaluate whether to cut back the total buy.

A self-identified defender of the ship, Mabus believes its deployments in Singapore, and participation in the Rim of the Pacific exercises this year, have showcased the versatility of the vessel.

He also pointed to last week’s launch of the Konsberg naval strike missile on LCS-4 Coronado. The event was part of the “foreign competition program” that allows the service to test weapons systems not developed by U.S. contractors.

"One of the things that it shows about the LCS is you can put different weapons on there very quickly and do things like this,” Mabus said.

After putting a hold on LCS contracts, Hagel established a small surface combatant task force to identify vessels that it could buy to boost its fleet. It released a request for information to industry in April asking for design concepts to replace or improve LCS.

The task force has been “thorough and exhaustive” in its analysis but has yet to brief  Hagel on its findings, Mabus said. "We expect to make a recommendation to the secretary in time for the next budget submission."

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Leadership, Shipbuilding, Aircraft Carriers, Surface Ships

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