Back on Sunday, January 8th the USS Bataan deployment became 291 days (41 weeks and 4 days) old. On that date the the USS Bataan (LHD 5) passed a mark previously held by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) as the longest big deck deployment since the Vietnam War, which lasted 290 days in 2003.
Back on Friday, January 20th the USS Bataan (LHD 5) deployment became 303 days (43 weeks and 2 days) old. On that day the USS Bataan (LHD 5) passed the USS Okinawa (LPH 3) as the longest amphibious ship deployment in our nations history, previously 302 days set in 1990.
I have been told by the Navy that the expected return date of the Bataan ARG is sometime over the next two weeks, specifically that the Bataan ARG will come close but not break the current record for the longest US Navy deployment since WWII currently held by USS Midway (CV 41) – which was 327 days in 1973.
My experience with Murphy’s Law is that you never say never. If for any reason the Bataan ARG finds itself in contingency mode and unable to return on schedule, the day the ship would break the USS Midway (CV 41) record of 327 days from 1973 would be February 15th, 2012 – the day after Valentine’s day. That would truly be one hell of a heartbreak for families who are being asked to do so much, not to mention sailors and Marines who have already lived at sea for over 300 days.
The 11 month Bataan ARG deployment comes on the heels of the 8 month deployment by the Kearsarge ARG, and the sailors and Marines of the Iwo Jima ARG preparing to deploy are already being told to expect a long deployment.
The President’s people have come out after the FY13 budget announcement to boast how capable the US Navy is, basically stating that despite having fewer ships, the fleet today is so much more in capability than the fleet of era’s past. That is a completely true statement, but as an argument it avoids the details that make the argument worth any real value.
Fewer ships is less, not more, and sailors are being asked to do a lot more with less so that politicians can claim less is more. The results are unconcealed in plain view for all who want to see them – the Bataan ARG is scheduled sometime over the next 2 weeks to complete the second longest deployment in US Navy history since WWII all while political leaders preach the importance of dwell time for our troops in an era of persistent conflict, while the Navy leadership chooses to cut more amphibious ships, and all the while our leaders tell more sailors and families to get ready for more long deployments. The mismatch of political rhetoric and leadership actions are far from congruent by any objective standard.
The Navy has fewer ships right now than in a century and the fleet will be getting smaller based on the administrations latest budget released last week. It is embarrassing when Navy leaders make public political arguments that all is well in the Navy when in fact all facts show men and material are being pushed to limits at historical levels in support of a policy that clearly cannot be supported beyond the short terms of a single political cycle.
Bob Work suggested last week that the nation is moving into a naval century. If true then the United States is in big trouble and someone is either expecting a miracle or a major domestic political shift to be able to hide our serious strategic shortcomings from allies and enemies alike. Right now our nations best plan publicly disseminated is apparently to design new ships like LCS with very short life cycles, retire good ships with long life cycles like cruisers and amphibious ships early, and push existing ships that are already underfunded on maintenance to the limits of their material condition – and that is before the part where the Navy asks sailors to do more with less as part of the plan while kicking any potential serious consequences that result down the road.
By any objective analysis, what the administration is touting as the way ahead does not represent a very admirable opening move in our naval century chess game, and this administration is asking too much of both sailors and reasonable observers to accept the status quo of historical level deployment lengths as some sort of policy blueprint for the future that is a naval century. The administration is making a policy argument that technology allows our nation to do less with more even though the human elements are still very clearly doing a lot more with less.
My 8th grade African-American history class taught me that only a sucker or a slave will believe in the fallacy that less is more, but for whatever reason ‘less is more’ is the current naval century policy argument being forwarded by this administration. Less is always less. If the administration believes the Navy needs less today, that can be a perfectly valid argument, but the administration must also ask less of the Navy today to insure the Navy of tomorrow exists at the level of capabilities that are being predicted as necessary, and promised to allies. The Navy is at a critical juncture, and the choices are either short term domestic political plans or long term strategic plans.
When administration officials tout less is more while pushing men and material to historical operating limits, that is a poster child demonstration of short term planning for domestic political purposes. A truly strategic plan will accept the risk that less truly means less, and the future won’t be sacrificed for the political needs of the present masters.