Saturday, January 26, 2013

Sailing to a Virtual Navy

We are finding that our virtual 6th Fleet isn't sufficient to watch the troubled Mediterranean region. The problem is that we don't have enough ships and our Navy doesn't want to face the fact that we can't afford the types of ships the Navy wants.

We don't have enough ships to pivot to Asia and to restore strength in the Mediterranean:

"The assumption that the Mediterranean would become a purely Western sphere of influence appears to have been premature," says Nikolas Gvosdev, professor of national security studies at the United States Naval War College in Rhode Island. ...

The U.S. had hoped it could pull back from the area, helping transfer military resources to the Pacific and South China Sea as part of a pivot to Asia aimed heavily at containing a rising China. But last year's Libya conflict provided stark warning that European states had distinctly limited capacity, and as the financial crisis bites defense budgets have been further cut.

I've noted that 6th Fleet is a virtual fleet, where we've maintained the illusion of our Cold War levels by using ships in transit. But we can't go back. We've tried to run our sailors and ships at the edge to make up for lack of numbers, but that isn't working any more:

The U.S. Navy is running out of money and is having a hard time avoiding the consequences. Thanks to all the new information systems added in the last two decades, the navy has been finding out quickly and in great detail how its current policies are running the ships and sailors ragged. The problem is that the navy has less money (because of budget cuts) and is unable to cope with high costs of replacing carriers and submarines that are dying of old age. The leadership has been unwilling to accept a small enough navy, especially one with fewer carriers, to match the current budgets. So ships are going to sea longer, with more broken or borderline equipment and crews that are fed up with all the time at sea. This problem has been growing for over a decade as more Cold War era ships got older and more difficult to maintain.

Regarding the Mediterranean, I don't think we need to shake loose a carrier for routine deployments there. Virtually the entire northern shore of the sea is a NATO air base, after all. We did get by in the Libya War without dispatching a big deck carrier task force there. Cold War-era carriers in the Mediterranean were more about posing a threat to the Soviet Union of launching nuclear-armed carrier aircraft at targets in southern USSR or Warsaw Pact targets.

Besides, if our NATO allies of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey can't deploy sufficient naval assets to combat problems on the south shore, well--good grief.

But the Navy needs to pick a number of the ships it must have to carry out missions and then do what it takes to get that number with the money appropriated. This isn't complicated math. Do that and we can afford to dispatch vessels to the Mediterranean to support our NATO allies in a crisis without stretching our Navy to the breaking point.

If our Navy leadership refuses to accept the numbers, the Navy will be the first hollow service we have. A virtual Navy, anyone?