A Game Of Battleship? WSJ Editorial

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DeM Banter: Again… interesting what sticks after the debate…and how things (on both sides) can be said with little not no impact… we have been talking about the pivot for a long time on the blog, but there is really no way to pivot and protect sea lanes with an extremely small Navy. Strategy is all about choices… and at times it is more about what you decide NOT to do. So, what are we as a nation NOT going to do as we shrink our DoD? Answer that question… and then the cuts will work, just not sure we have really had the discussion. Interesting data point from an airpower perspective.. in Vietnam we lost…2,251 aircraft…. today the total USAF inventory is 5,770 and that includes all aircraft (non-combat platforms as well)…. we have approx 2260 fighters, bombers, attack aircraft and gunships…. and as many know…that number is also shrinking.

Wall Street Journal
October 25, 2012
Pg. 16

Obama would need Romney’s Navy to fulfill his own military strategy.

‘And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting ships. It’s what are our capabilities.

That was President Obama at Monday night’s debate, rebuking Mitt Romney for noting that the U.S.Navy is the smallest it’s been in nearly a century and may soon get smaller. It would be nice to think the President has been up late reading Alfred Thayer Mahan. To judge by the rest of his remarks on the subject, he hasn’t.

We mean Mr. Obama’s well-rehearsed jibe that “we also have fewer horses and bayonets” than we did during World War I. This was followed by the observation that “we have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Yes, Mr. President. And we have fewer of all of those things, too.

When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, the Navy counted 529 ships in the fleet, including 15 aircraft carriers and 121 nuclear submarines. In 2001 the Navy was down to 316 ships, with 12 carriers and 73 subs. In 2011 the numbers were 285, 11 and 71, respectively. On current trajectory, Mr. Romney said, “we’re headed down to the low 200s,” a figure Mr. Obama did not dispute.

The President is right that the ships the U.S. puts to sea today are, for the most part, much more capable than they were 20 or 30 years ago. But that’s true only up to a point. Aegis cruisers and destroyers responsible for defending their immediate battle space are now taking on the additional role of providing ballistic missile defense. The tasks multiply, but the ships aren’t getting any additional missile tubes.

A smaller fleet is also more stressed. The usual model for ship rotations—one-third deployed, one-third preparing for deployment, and one-third in overhaul—has given way to a reality in which 40% of the fleet is deployed and another 19% is underway for training operations. As one Naval friend with recent command experience tells us, “we are crushing our sailors.”

A smaller fleet is also more vulnerable for the simple reason that the loss of even a single ship removes a proportionately larger share of total capability.

Today’s ships can see and shoot farther than ever. But defensive technologies haven’t kept pace. In 2006, a high-tech Israeli corvette built by Northrop Grumman was badly damaged by an antiship missile of Chinese design fired by Hezbollah. In 2007, a Chinese diesel-electric sub surfaced within torpedo range of the USS Kitty Hawk, having gone undetected by the aircraft carrier or battle group.

Then there is the Strait of Hormuz, through which flows much of the world’s oil. When the U.S. last confronted Iranian mines in the tanker wars of the 1980s, the Navy could deploy 22 minesweepers. Today it has 14.

For years, Navy brass pushed 313 ships as the number needed to fulfill their core tasks. In fairness to President Obama, he has slightly increased the size of the fleet, to 287 ships today, since it reached a historic low of 278 in 2007. But even the 313 goal is insufficient, mainly because it would include 55 Littoral Combat Ships that are fast and sleek but have limited capabilities and are highly vulnerable in the shallow coastal waters in which they are intended to operate.

A larger irony is that Mr. Obama has ordered the so-called pivot to Asia, where America is primarily a maritime power. Last we checked the Pacific had gotten no smaller. China is rapidly modernizing and expanding its fleet while staking out maritime claims in the South and East China Seas. When the Administration announced its new defense strategy in January, the Navy was supposed to be spared the brunt of defense cuts precisely for that reason.

Concerns about ship numbers may seem passé. They also seemed passé to many in the late 19th century, which is exactly why Mahan wrote “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.” If we’ve again become cavalier about maintaining the freedom of the seas, it’s because a powerful U.S. Navy has accustomed us to indifference. Weaken the Navy further, and that’s a luxury we’ll lose.

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