The Commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, ADM John C. Harvey, Jr., spoke at the USNI-sponsored Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach. He used the Navy’s recent experience with the joint force as a way to emphasize that the joint force is only as strong as the foundation upon which it is built: the strength and capabilities of the individual service branches. But he also spoke about the Navy’s recent experience to demonstrate a the challenge of balancing meeting Combatant Commander’s needs with ensuring the readiness of the force.

That the U.S. Navy has essentially been at a wartime tempo of operations for years now is not new. The price of that tempo of operations is known to be burning through the service life of platforms faster than anticipated, missed maintenance and proficiency training in core competencies. An average of some 50 ships a year cross redlines in order to meet operational demands. The Admiral made a point of the fact that the Fleet Response Plan’s intention of improving operational availability and surge capacity had been successful, but that the Combatant Commands began to gobble up not just the expanded availability but the surge capacity intended for a major wartime scenario. His point was to emphasize the need institutionally to balance the needs of the joint force with the imperative of the naval service to sustain the fleet for the long term, especially since there is no prospect of the navy having extra room in its shipbuilding budget to replace existing platforms early.

Part of this is institutional. Part of this is being more honest with ourselves and the Combatant Commands about what we can and cannot provide without crossing redlines that should be respected short of major wartime scenarios. But with no prospect in the near future of a reduction in demands by the Combatant Commands, part of the solution must also be how the Navy fulfills operational requirements.

In this context, I caught a news article reiterating the intention to move a carrier to Mayport, Florida by 2019 at the cost of more than half a billion dollars (if things happen on time and on budget). As if our problem is the strategic dispersal of the fleet when we already have carriers home ported at four different locations (counting the forward-deployed USS George Washington in Yokosuka, Japan). I’m not a sailor, but I have often wondered why there has not been more investment in overseas facilities (I tend to think about Australia in particular in this context) to expand the quantity of forward deployed assets. The concept of operations for the Littoral Combat Ship remains to be proven but the rotation of crews and lower-level maintenance being conducted at forward facilities (or perhaps by tenders) seems something worth revisiting on a wider scale.

Posted by nhughes in Navy

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  • Byron

    Speaking as a Mayport Yardbird of many years I’ll tell you the desire of everyone working here that we get a couple of amphibs and two or four escorts. You can keep the carrier, we could do without the traffic on Mayport Rd. or the long lines at Singletons at lunch 🙂

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    The title of your post is headed in the right direction. I sense that the requirement generation process is about to experience a pendulum swing from capability to capacity over the next decade. This is important in the CVN vs. LHD/LHA debate and the LCS vs. FFG debate.

    The strategic dispersion debate is largely political theater as insinuated in the original post (at least as I read it).


  • SwitchBlade

    Strategic dispersal was and issue when the Soviet Union could block the few ports we may have had carriers based in during the cold war. I don’t think its and issue today.

    Forward Deployment, or overseas basing, is not as easy as it is to say. I also suspect it doesn’t save any money – only transit time. The sailor’s still rotate and shore based training them is a problem if they’re overseas. You either have to have enough sailors requiring a specific school to make it worth having the school over there, or you have to rotate them back to the states. Generally, it is necessary to have sailors being transferred in go through a max pipeline to pick up the schools necessary for the ship. This may not be who the ship would like to have attend a particular school. Also, the ship then looses the option of sending deserving and qualified sailors to Fleet Schools and rate training some require for the next pay grade.

    And then there are the dependents. Families have to move overseas, have a support structure, schools, housing etc. The ship still gets underway so there are all of the separation issues without a family’s states side support structure.

    All and all, I suspect the the navy would bring back the CVBG in Japan if it could.

  • SwitchBlade,

    Absolutely easier to say than do. But even if it is every bit as expensive, hulls would spend less time in transit to theater. I don’t know enough about the issues to advocate a specific model, whether it be more basing as with Yokosuka or with blue/gold crewing or something else entirely. But if something has got to give, it would seem that we could and should be exploring options like we are conceiving of for LCS and like we are doing with the SSGNs. Don’t know the answer on this one, but I’m not convinced that it necessarily has to entail worsening the burden on families — though I suppose a burden on families has always been a reality of the sea services.