First, ships are registered as being part of the fleet before they are commissioned. If we remove ships that are “in Service, not in commission” we reduce the fleet by 4 to 279 (Truxtun (DDG-103), Stockdale (DDG-106), Green Bay (LPD-20), and Amelia Earhart (T-AKE-6)). Shouldn’t we formalize this status instead of hiding them within a list of fully commissioned vessels?
Second, ships that are, for all intents and purposes, inactive, are not declared as such. If we remove these “deactivating” vessels, we reduce the fleet by 2 to 277 (USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), USS Tarawa (LHA-1)). Nuclear submarines have an “in commission, in reserve (standown)” status for inactivating ships, so why not follow their lead?
Finally, the Battle Fleet totals are padded by including the 9 FFG-7 reserve frigates…yet reduced by excluding the 10 Cyclone Class Patrol Craft. Why? Patrol craft used to be included…while reserves were excluded…
Still, without this sort of accounting, we’d be awfully close to the fleet’s19th Century low… In the interest of providing the best, most accurate data to the public and national policymakers, does the Navy’s method of accounting for fleet size need rationalization? Is the baroque accounting distorting the national debate on Navy fleet size? Is the situation worse–or better–than we believe?
But the accounting questions don’t end with the methodological hiccups detailed above. We’ve got some very…interesting…assets listed in our books that need consideration. If we don the green eye-shades and poke into the Battle Fleet ship list, we see that the Military Sealift Command administers commissioned ships that are, as yet, skippered by a Navy captain and operated by MSC (civilian) mariners. So that leaves us with 2 ships in a “quasi-naval” status (USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) and USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20)).
And then we have an array of 42 other MSC support vessels, a fleet of 30 logistical support vessels (tankers and supply ships) and 13 support ships (tugs, salvage and surveillance). With civilian masters and civilian crew, their status as fully-fledged naval vessels seems…at best, unprecedented. Should these vessels be included as components of the Ship Forces Battle Fleet? Yes? No? We’re already seeing command and control problems bubble up on naval-led missions aboard MSC vessels. And, if we believe that future warfare will be characterized by some sort of surprise, why do all MSC vessels go without a weapons/communications suite? How durable is the MSC in a contested sea?
It seems, sometimes, the cost-saving disposition of the Battle Fleet sprang out of the same folks who gave us all fancy adjustable mortgages, cool financing options and endless credit. And that’s all ended really well, right? Right?