Senator Webb On The Navy

February 2009


From an interview with the senator, an interesting comment:

RCP: Now that John Warner has retired, you’re the only former Secretary of the Navy in the Senate. There was a report recently that our Navy fleet is dwindling from 600 twenty years ago down to 200 in the next ten years. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, what can you do or what you have done to ensure we have the best Navy fleet possible?
When I was commissioned in 1968, we had 930 ships in the United States Navy. It went down to 479 in 1979 after Vietnam. And then we had it up to — I think I had it up to around 580, 586. When I resigned as Secretary of the Navy I made a statement — it was over a budget issue with cutting the Navy back — I made a statement: ‘I did not choose to become the father of the 350 ship Navy.’ Little did I know, it got down to the 270s. It’s now 282.

I think the Navy has huge challenges right now. They got leadership challenges. They came in $4.6 billion in unfunded requirements. They’re trying to get it up to 313 ships. Their air procurement programs are in disarray. They had ship building programs in disarray, cancelled. They really need a stronger focus, and they need to be rebuilding their structure and those sorts of things. So we’ve been back and forth on this. They need to really get a much stronger focus on where to use their money.

Posted by Chap in Navy, Soft Power

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  • UltimaRatioReg

    The senator makes a wonderful point. Just how does “forward presence” look with a Navy of high-cost, high-tech, low-density platforms?

  • Bill Aston

    It’s getting old–many people are saying the same thing. Perhaps there is truth it all this babble. The Navy needs FOCUS.

    Years ago the phrase was “get your act together”. CNO must have this on his shaving mirror.

  • Dave Price

    Back to the basics. Sometimes quantity IS quality. The contractors selling us stuff take advantage of the fact that we never saw a piece of gold-plated technology we didn’t like. Trading away quantity (in people and ships) for what oftentimes turn out to be over-promised technological force-multipliers has stretched us very thin out there. Replacing our manpower with technology at sea and contractors ashore might be saving us money on the personnel front but might also be serving to make us less agile in our expeditionary mission. Presence is still about footprint and high-tech can’t put an American flag in more places than our Sailors and ships can actually be at one time. We can learn a lot from the lessons our Air Force learned when trying to sell airborne precision munitions as a replacement for boots on the ground. The truest precision weapons is a Marine sniper. The truest naval presence is a ship at sea.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Of GREAT concern is this idea that HA/DR is now a core mission of the USN. The “feel-good” so-called soft power mission has many problems, but the main issue is that such tasks are extremely manpower and resource intensive. And is not exactly the place to risk high-cost, low-density platforms. So, just as we are reducing the flexibility of the US Navy, as so well pointed out by the comments thus far on this post, we have signed up for something which is going to require precisely the types of vessels and capabilities we are seeing evaporate. As my Dad would say, “You cut the plank twice, and it’s still too short!”

    Fight and win our nation’s wars. Everything else is a distant second.

  • Current Navy acquisitions (ship & aviation)STAFFS appear not aware
    of “Today’s NEEDS/ENVIRONMENT/THREATS” world-wide.Our “Small War thinking/capabilities are dismal!It would help greatly to “THIN” that group & Re-Call past,skilled Mariners who have continued to work Industrial Proposals. Further, other Nations capably produce superior platforms that may be as useful. Can Sen. Webb influence SECNAV/CNO to “TRIAL~PLAY” this concept of RECALLED WARRIORS as a “Board of Dirctors”? What is our diminished “Heavy~Sea~Lift” resolution for meeting problem areas? Why RETIRE LSD/LPD/LHA/Servicable Hulls when they can become “GLOBAL FLEET STATION SHIPS” to deploy/support NECC assets in BROWN WATER OPS & green water Litoral Combatants? Anti-Pirate & Sea Control assets are truly needed to meet US Navy missions world-wide! We are asleep while pockets of Terrorist venues multiply!

  • Bill Aston

    Whilst the CNO is doing his best to maintain FOCUS it would be wise to ensure that new programs do not evolve that will make it more difficult to achieve a successfl marriage of strategy-tactics-cost-equipment-manpower. Control must be maintained over long periods.

    It is not easy to predict the future. There is a tremendous amount of intellecual work focused upon the CNO. Is there a place today for a new Navy General Board ? This top-level group might work to ensure that the hardware concerns are being suitably studied and considered.

  • SeniorD

    Yes, the Navy’s Leadership has much to handle with little to handle it with. There’s an entrenched bureaucracy that know one speed (dead slow), one mantra (carriers über alles) and possesses an Air Force grade love affair with high technology. A reliance and dependence upon Enlisted Personnel to maintain Fleet readiness but damn little support, especially for the Junior Enlisteds (E-3 and below). Navy Brass ignores input from probably the single best source of professionalism in today’s Navy, the Chief Petty Officers, while entrusting multi-million dollar weapon systems to junior officers with less than half the Time-In-Service of the average Petty Officer.

    A good portrait of James Webb can be found in “The Nightingale’s Song”. My reading is he comes off like the smarmy used car salesman he is today.