The severe effects of eight years of disinvestment are taking hold on the United States Navy, at the same time that massive investment by Russia and China have dramatically increased the threat at sea. America has not been this imperiled on the oceans since the middle of World War 2.
An unclassified study by the Mitre organization found that the “Navy’s budget is insufficient to fund required force levels. The Navy’s budget is insufficient to develop, procure, operate, and sustain all the forces need to meet the revised defeat / hold scenario force structure. In addition, budget instability forces the Navy to make acquisition decisions that undermine affordability initiatives…for the last four years, the Navy has been operating under reduced top-lines and significant shortfalls. There will likely continue to be increasing pressure on the procurement accounts, which in turn threatens the near-term health of the defense industrial base.”
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Adm. William F. Moran painted a dismal picture of a Navy that has been strained to the limit. Moran told committee members the ongoing demand for U.S. Naval forces far exceeds its long-term supply. And, he added, the Navy is the smallest it’s been in 99 years, making it urgent to “adequately fund, fix and maintain the fleet we do have.”The U.S. Navy has never been busier in a world of global threats, Admiral Moran said. While the Navy is getting the job done the unrelenting pace, inadequate resources and small size are taking their toll.
“For years, we’ve all learned to live with less and less, we have certainly learned to execute our budget inefficiently with nine consecutive continuing resolutions,” Moran said. But this has forced the Navy to repeatedly take money from cash accounts that are the lifeblood of building long-term readiness in its ranks, he added.
Moran’s testimony painted a dismal picture of a Navy that has been strained to the limit, noting that “As our Sailors and Navy civilians… prepare to ensure our next ships and aircraft squadrons deploy with all that they need, the strain is significant and growing…our shipyards and aviation depots are struggling to get our ships and airplanes through maintenance periods on time. In turn, these delays directly impact the time Sailors have to train and hone their skills prior to deployment. These challenges are further exacerbated by low stocks of critical parts and fleet-wide shortfalls in ordnance, and an aging shore infrastructure…It has become clear to me that the Navy’s overall readiness has reached its lowest level in many years…
“Our readiness challenges go deeper than ship and aircraft maintenance, directly affecting our ability to care for the Navy Team. Our people are what make the U.S. Navy the best in the world, but our actions do not reflect that reality. To meet the constraints of the Balanced Budget Act, the Navy’s FY 2017 budget request was forced to reduce funding for Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves. These reductions have been compounded by the Continuing Resolution, which imposed even further reductions on that account. Without sufficient PCS funding, the Navy will be unable to move Sailors to replace ship and squadron crewmembers leaving service, increasing the strain on those who remain. This is an area in which timing also matters greatly. Even if the money comes eventually, if it is too late, necessary moves will be delayed until the beginning of the new fiscal year. That means our Sailors with children will be forced to relocate their children in the middle of a school year. And because we don’t know if and when additional PCS funding may come, we cannot give our Sailors and their families much time to prepare, often leaving them with weeks, rather than months, to prepare for and conduct a move, often from one coast, or even one country, to another. Meanwhile, our shore infrastructure has become severely degraded and is getting worse because it has been a repeated bill payer for other readiness accounts in an effort to maintain afloat readiness. Consequently, we continue to carry a substantial backlog of facilities maintenance and replacement, approaching $8 billion.
“Time is running out. Years of sustained deployments and constrained and uncertain funding have resulted in a readiness debt that will take years to pay down. If the slow pace of readiness recovery continues, unnecessary equipment damage, poorly trained operators at sea, and a force improperly trained and equipped to sustain itself will result. Absent sufficient funding for readiness, modernization and force structure, the Navy cannot return to full health, where it can continue to meet its mission on a sustainable basis.”
A Defense News analysis put the crisis in stark terms: “…nearly two-thirds of the fleet’s strike fighters can’t fly — grounded because they’re either undergoing maintenance or simply waiting for parts or their turn in line on the aviation depot backlog…more than half the Navy’s aircraft are grounded, most because there isn’t enough money to fix them…there isn’t enough money to fix the fleet’s ships, and the backlog of ships needing work continues to grow…some submarines are out of service for prolonged periods.”
The perilous and diminished condition of the U.S. Navy must be contrasted with the rapidly growing strength of its Russian and Chinese adversaries.
Andrew Erickson, writing for the National Interest, notes that “ China has parlayed the world’s second-largest economy and second-largest defense budget into the world’s largest ongoing comprehensive naval buildup, which has already yielded the world’s second-largest navy China may assemble a combat fleet that in overall order of battle (hardware only) is quantitatively, and perhaps even qualitatively, in the same league as the USN. In my personal opinion, even the perception that China was on track to achieve such parity would have grave consequences for America’s standing and influence across the Asia-Pacific and around the world.
The ANNUAL REPORT TO CONGRESS “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016” notes that “Over the past 15 years, China’s ambitious naval modernization program has produced a more technologically advanced and flexible force. The PLAN now possesses the largest number of vessels in Asia, with more than 300 surface ships, submarines, amphibious ships, and patrol craft. China is rapidly retiring legacy combatants in favor of larger, multi-mission ships equipped with advanced anti-ship, antiair, and anti-submarine weapons and sensors. China continues its gradual shift from “near sea” defense to “far seas” protection.”…China is expanding its access to foreign ports to pre-position the necessary logistics support to regularize and sustain deployments in the “far seas,” waters as distant as the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean. In late November, China publicly confirmed its intention to build military supporting facilities in Djibouti…This Chinese initiative both reflects and amplifies China’s growing geopolitical clout, extending the reach of its influence and armed forces…
Admiral Harris, the U.S. Navy Pacific Commander, has told the U.S. Senate that China’s Navy is increasing its routine operations in the Indian Ocean, expanding the area and duration of operations and exercises in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, and is beginning to act as a global navy – venturing into other areas, including Europe, North America, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.
The Congressional Research Service has released its analysis of the challenge. The New York Analysis of Policy and Government provides this summary:
China is building a modern and regionally powerful navy with a limited but growing capability for conducting operations beyond China’s near-seas region. Observers of Chinese and U.S. military forces view China’s improving naval capabilities as posing a potential challenge in the Western Pacific to the U.S. Navy’s ability to achieve and maintain control of blue-water ocean areas in wartime—the first such challenge the U.S. Navy has faced since the end of the Cold War. More broadly, these observers view China’s naval capabilities as a key element of an emerging broader Chinese military challenge to the long-standing status of the United States as the leading military power in the Western Pacific. The question of how the United States should respond to China’s military modernization effort, including its naval modernization effort, is a key issue in U.S. defense planning.
China’s naval modernization effort encompasses a broad array of platform and weapon acquisition programs, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs), submarines, surface ships, aircraft, and supporting C4ISR (command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) systems. China’s naval modernization effort also includes improvements in maintenance and logistics, doctrine, personnel quality, education and training, and exercises…
Potential oversight issues for Congress include the following:
- whether the U.S. Navy in coming years will be large enough and capable enough to adequately counter improved Chinese maritime A2/AD forces while also adequately performing other missions around the world;
- whether the Navy’s plans for developing and procuring long-range carrier-based aircraft and long-range ship-and aircraft-launched weapons are appropriate;
- whether the Navy can effectively counter Chinese ASBMs and submarines; and
- whether the Navy, in response to China’s maritime A2/AD capabilities, should shift over time to a more distributed fleet architecture.
U.S. Navy Adm. Mark Ferguson, who commands NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, and U.S. Navy forces in Europe and Africa, reports that “From the North Atlantic to the Black Sea, Russia is fielding an increasingly capable navy…unveiling a new maritime strategy and demonstrating new equipment and capabilities at sea. The strategy is clearly aimed at deterring NATO maritime forces, he said, and is not defensive. The proficiency and operational tempo of the Russian submarine force is increasing…”
The Office of Naval Intelligence notes that Moscow’s navy “is capable of delivering nuclear and conventional strikes against an enemy’s land facilities, destroying enemy naval formations at sea and in base, interdicting enemy maritime and oceanic sea lines of communication while protecting its own shipping, cooperating with ground forces in continental theaters of military operations, making amphibious landings, repelling enemy landings, and fulfilling other missions.”
Research from Ponars Eurasia explains that “Russia’s takeover of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent reinforcement of the region’s military forces have been combined with a general increase in naval activity—including aggressive activity vis-à-vis NATO countries’ maritime interests beyond the Black Sea…”
The Federation of American Scientists notes that “The new technologically advanced Russian Navy… will also provide a flexible platform for Russia to demonstrate offensive capability, threaten neighbors, project power regionally, and advance President Putin’s stated goal of returning Russia to clear great power status…As Russia asserts itself on the world stage, it is giving priority of effort and funding to recapitalizing its navy. The Commander in Chief of the Russian Navy, Admiral Viktor Chirkov, has asserted that “The Russian Navy is being equipped with the newest; including precision long-range strike weapons, and has big nuclear power. Naval forces today are capable of operating for a long time and with high combat readiness in operationally important areas of the global ocean”
Sputnik News reports that “The Russian Navy received a total of four combat surface ships, four submarines and 52 auxiliary ships in 2015,” according to Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov.
While Europe remains the main focus of the Russian military, the Russian Navy has been intent on dominating the Arctic and significantly increasing its power in the Pacific, where it has held joint war training games with China.
Moscow has established a number of new bases in the Arctic. Stratfor reports that “…the militarization of the Arctic — and by extension, the construction of new bases or the repurposing of old Soviet facilities — will remain one of the Russian military’s top priorities in the coming years.”
A Japan Times/Reuters article notes that “Interviews with officials and military analysts and reviews of government documents show Russia’s buildup is the biggest since the 1991 Soviet fall and will, in some areas, give Moscow more military capabilities than the Soviet Union once had…The expansion has far-reaching financial and geopolitical ramifications… It is building three nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, to bolster its fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, used to clear channels for military and civilian ships. U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis, in a separate written submission, described Moscow’s Arctic moves as ‘aggressive steps.’… “The modernization of Arctic forces and of Arctic military infrastructure is taking place at an unprecedented pace not seen even in Soviet times,’ Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief, told Reuters. He said two special Arctic brigades had been set up, something the USSR never had, and that there were plans to form a third as well as special Arctic coastal defense divisions.
Russia’s extraordinary naval buildup far from Europe is not confined to the colder climes. Moscow’s military presence in the Pacific is being bolstered by new ships, submarines, and strengthened bases.
U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Harris warned the Senate Armed Services Committee that “Ships and submarines of the Russian Pacific Fleet and long range aircraft routinely demonstrate Russia’s message that it is a Pacific power. 6 Russian ballistic missile and attack submarines remain especially active in the region. The arrival in late 2015 of Russia’s newest class of nuclear ballistic missile submarine (DOLGORUKIY SSBN) in the Far East is part of a modernization program for the Russian Pacific Fleet and signals the seriousness with which Moscow views this region.”