Status of the Navy

May 2009


A trio of C-Span presentations made at a Hudson Institute forum that are worth watching. Takes about 3 hours:

Status of the Navy:

Particular attention should be paid to James Clad’s presentation starting about 30 minutes in. And Aaron Friedberg’s comments following. The theme is the long term effects of a decline in U.S. maritime capability in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. The post presentation Q&A discusses the “surprise” we are experiencing with China’s rapid increase in potential power. And the perceived lack of U.S. Navy presence in the area. Has China already limited our access to the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea?

Retired admiral and current U.S. Rep Sestak (D. PA) presentation on the status of the Navy:

Capability vs. numbers of units. Interesting discussion re maneuverable ballistic anti-ship missiles and ABM Aegis ships about 43 minutes in. He likes the LCS about 47 minutes in. Except there is a problem with module shifting. And he does peg the Navy’s pending lack of heavy lift helos when the H-53s go bye-bye. The H-60 cannot replace the lift that the H-3 and H-53s had.

Former SecNav John Lehman here at the same event:

“We should look like we know what we’re doing.” Telling the U.S. merchant fleet that it’s not the Navy’s job to provide freedom of the sea, even against Somali pirates in small skiffs, isn’t sending the right message. The Chinese don’t believe we can project sufficient force, perhaps with some reason. And we are not managing procurement well.

My thoughts:

  1. Capability based solely on models is a dangerous path;
  2. Hard to send one ship, no matter how capable, to 2 different locations at the same time;
  3. Numbers do matter;
  4. When the nation is involved in land wars, the Navy needs to continually speak up loudly about the importance of the U.S. being a maritime nation.

Update: Yes, the program was titled, “The Future of the Navy” or something by CSpan. Hudson advertised it as, “‘Don’t Give Up the Ships — A Look at a 200-Ship Navy”


UPDATE: Interesting discussion:

I was also interested to hear the Chief of Naval Operations state yesterday, at the Full Committee hearing, that the Navy still intends to maintain a minimum of 313 ships. It had begun to sound as if the Secretary of Defense, in his Foreign Affairs article, and the Navy, in its budget roll out, were beginning to back away from that number. It was not clear to me how the Navy planned to implement the joint Maritime Strategy, with its emphasis on forward presence, if the Navy intended to accept fewer ships. A ship can only be in one place at once and today’s fleet is the smallest it has been for nearly one hundred years.

Quote is from Rep. Todd Akin (R., Mo.)

Posted by Mark Tempest in Navy

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  • E1,
    Awwww, come on Shipmate! You know it is retired “Rear Admiral” Sestak.

    Man, attention to detail in the elderly … 😉

  • Fouled Anchor

    CDR S, interesting tidbit to add here. I read your home blog post about the U.S. Naval Register, then I took a look at Sestak’s bio on his official homepage, http://www.sestak.house.gov/biography.shtml. Here’s a piece of that bio:

    “Born and raised in Delaware County, Joe Sestak spent 31 years serving our nation in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of three-star Admiral.”

    So, is he a liar, or is the Naval Register wrong? Regarding military service, isn’t representing yourself as something you are not (rank, medals, etc) a crime?

  • Fouled Anchor

    Okay, a little more digging shows you are both right. I didn’t know he attained three-star rank but retired as a two-star. The wikipedia reference for the info is no longer valid.

  • Eagle1

    With that first “big ensign” stripe, I always just said,”Hello, Admiral.”

    Rear, Vice or whatever, the generic works.

  • Natty Bowditch

    What US Merchant fleet?

    The myth is we’re a maritime nation. The reality is we’re a former maritime nation.

    As of about 5 years ago, there were fewer than 100 US flagged merchant ships engaged in the foreign trade. That number is on a downward trend. Basing the idea that we need a larger USN based on protecting US merchantmen from pirates is an almost desperate reach.

  • Byron

    Natty, should we also not protect the cargo carried in foreign bottoms that are bound for the US?

  • Natty Bowditch

    Lehman argued a larger Navy was needed for the US Merchant fleet. I ask where that merchant fleet is.

    To my mind, calling for a larger USN based on the piracy issue is a bit like asking for a nuke to kill a mosquito. IOW, it’s a bit of a desperate argument.

  • Jay

    Natty — We still are a maritime nation, just not a commercial maritime powerhouse. That is not new, throughout our history, at times we have served as a commercial “flag of convenience” for other nations (especially during the english/french various conflicts), and at other times, our commercial trade has followed the cheapest flag of convenience as well. A normal part of our “free market” ideal — not to mention that that the farm lobby/and their congress reps — outnumbering the coastal state reps, fight to keep shipping costs low. The lowest rates are normally foreign flag.

    The exception to this is military or other “government-impelled” cargoes (US AID food stuffs, Dept of Ag, etc.), which are required by law to go US flag only (some cargo might go foreign flag if no US flagged commercial or government-owned ships are available).

    The other commerce that is “reserved” for US flag is cabotage (US port to US port), the smaller coastal trade. It is called “Jones Act”other nations have similar laws.

    (Google or wiki merchant marine acts of 1920 and 1936)

    So — the large US commercial ports see mostly foreign flagged container ships that make a single US east or west coast port call. Container ships are normally in a “liner” trade — (think sea going bus route), with a defined route (that could change according to market conditions).

    Our Navy should be providing protection by enforcing freedom of navigation. Tough to do without convoys. Not impossible to do, but a magnitude of difficulty greater if you are considering providing protection for foreign flagged ships as well.

    Convoying turns today’s “just-in-time” logisitcs chain on its head.

    U.S. & other Navy ships simply can’t be everywhere at once.

    The commercial ship owning companies have to step up to plate & provide for some measure of their own protection — up to & including armed guards. That should fend off most/all of the pirate attacks, in some cases, until a Navy asset can “get there” if still needed. The Navy should still be engaged in patrolling & detering/battling the pirates as well.

    Piracy needs to be addressed on shore via other means, as well.

  • Natty Bowditch


    Thanks but I’m pretty well-acquainted with the Jones Act and such. I’m trying to remain focused on the issue of piracy and the US merchant fleet.

    Since piracy is pretty well-localized–off Somalia, the Straits of Malacca, and to a degree, some other isolated instances–it’s pretty difficult to justify a huge Navy based on this issue alone. After all, this isn’t the situation we’ve seen in WWII where subs were taking out merchant shipping with abandon. In reality, we’ve not seen any measurable impact to the economy from piracy.

    Running convoys is not the nightmare you envison nor is the scheme of running patrols in those known trouble spots.

    I understand (but don’t necessarily agree with) the desire for a large Navy. But the piracy issue isn’t a very good argument.