Letter from Congressman Randy Forbes and Congressman Todd Akin to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus dated May 1, 2012.
Dear Secretary Mabus:
In 1981, then-Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, issued a Memorandum on “Ship Counting Methodology” for counting Battle Force ships. Noting the political nature associated with how ships are counted, Lehman believed the Carter Administration “overstated the overall size of the Navy” and that a methodology for ship counting was therefore required to count “those ships which actually contribute to the Navy’s wartime mission of combat and support.”
We revisit this history because we are concerned the Department of the Navy may again choose to alter the rules by which it has abided for the last three decades when counting the total Battle Force size in an effort to exhibit to the public a larger fleet than actually exists. In your February 2012 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee you stated that:
The new FSA (Force Structure Analysis) will consider the types of ships included in the final ship-count based on changes in mission, requirements, deployment status, and capabilities. For example, classes of ships previously not part of the Battle Force such as AFSBs developed to support SOF/non-traditional missions, Patrol Combatant craft forward deployed to areas requiring that capability, and COMFORT Class Hospital Ships deployed to provide humanitarian assistance, an expanded core Navy mission, may be counted as primary mission platforms. Any changes in ship counting Rules will be reported and publicized.
To our knowledge, the Congress has not received notification of a change in the rules. And on April 18, 2012, Undersecretary of the Navy, Robert O. Work, reaffirmed this fact when he said “The 300 ships that we [will] have in 2019 are ships that we count right now.” However, in an interview with Defense News from April 30, 2012, Undersecretary Work also stated that the Navy is “looking at updating (its) counting rules.”
Considering your testimony from February and Undersecretary Work’s statements, we write today to inquire if your office has plans to revisit the methodology it has used for counting the Battle Force since the release of the Febtuary 2006 Navy plan for 313-ships? More specifically, is the Navy still considering counting Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) or Hospital Ships (T-AH) as part of the Battle Force? Given that the Congress is tasked by the Constitution to “provide and maintain a Navy,” we trust that any changes to how the Battle Force is counted will be executed in full consultation with the Legislative Branch so that a mutually agreeable outcome can be achieved.
As always, thank you for your service to the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, and the Nation.
This letter is posted online in PDF format as part of this AOL Defense article. The May 29, 1981 memo by Secretary Lehman was previously classified, but has since been declassified and is available at this link. If you haven’t seen the memo I encourage you to take a look, because Lehman was specific that the wartime mission of the Navy drove decisions for counting. It is noteworthy that the memo didn’t need much explanation either – in other words the guiding methodology for what was and was not a battle force ship was short, simple, and to the point.
The potential classification of Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) or Hospital Ships (T-AH) as battle force ships is largely seen as a political issue at a time when the Navy is currently having trouble reaching a goal of 300 ships.
For example, what exactly is the point of counting the current Patrol Coastal Ships (PC) as battle force ships? The Navy has never given much thought about the PCs, indeed has never demonstrated until very recently they actually wanted the ships – which is why the US Coast Guard operated several of them for years, and now once the PCs approach end of life the Navy suddenly not only upgrades their weapon capabilities but wants to count PCs as battle force ships? All of the PCs are already between 12-19 years old and their life is only considered to be about 25 years at best – meaning all current PCs are likely to be retired between 2020-2025 anyway. The shipbuilding plan doesn’t include a PC replacement, so other than being able to count ships as part of the battle force for the short term, what exactly is to be gained? Is this only a political issue?
Here is another question… what if the Navy decides to put in a PC replacement? Does counting PCs as battle force ships benefit in any way should a potential PC replacement program pop up?
The Hospital Ships (T-AH) are a different issue entirely. At first my thought was, why not… after all the hospital ships today can serve in a support role for wartime operations, and are used for soft power operations today which are missions that have also been conducted by amphibious ships counted by the rules.
However, the reason I think the Hospital Ships (T-AH) are more problematic is that the hospital ships are specifically used as part of a diplomatic role for the United States, and their missions are executed under concepts rooted in Strategic Communications. Does it undermine the strategic communications aspect of medical diplomacy if the Navy starts counting the hospital ships as part of the “battle force?” All it takes is for one US hating foreign reporter to write a front page article how the Hospital Ships are “battle force ships” according to the US Navy and the STRATCOM of Medical Diplomacy with hospital ships becomes an uphill political climb. If the missions the hospital ships are deployed on have any function in strategic communications on behalf of the United States, it does appear claiming those ships as “battle force ships” would in fact be counter to the purpose of the ships missions in the 21st century, and be counterproductive without any obvious benefit.
I am not sure if the Navy gains by listing the hospital ships as part of the battle force. My sense is there is some loss in strategic communications, but how big or small that loss is depends a lot on how important the Navy considers the strategic communications of the hospital ship missions to be on these medical diplomacy deployments. It may not be a big deal though?
Last week an interview by Chris Cavas of Undersecretary Bob Work that discussed this topic was posted to Navy Times here. It covers the PCs and Hospital Ships, as well as JHSVs and other ships including special mission ships under consideration related to counting rules. Is this simply politics, or is there more to it than politics?
Time will tell.