This article is a response to “Atlantic Naval Forces Have a Future,” written on Sept. 10, 2012 by J. Randy Forbes.
The U.S. Navy’s shift in strategic emphasis in recent years provides the impetus for a closer examination of the options for both force structure and basing. These discussions must be frank and driven by strategic realities.
Last week’s assessment by Randy Forbes’ is absolutely correct when arguing that the number of ships available for service remains the most critical issue facing the Navy. An increase of more than 50 percent in operational ship-days combined with the smallest Fleet in almost a century has led to a rash of reports of ships suffering from degraded material conditions. The maintenance facilities in U.S. ports are unparalleled and represent the best answer to reversing those troubling trends. The assertions concerning the need to maintain a credible force in our Atlantic ports are also compelling. Southern Command, West African contingencies, and European Command requirements are all best supported from East Coast traditional homeports. Those arguments, while compelling, do not overcome the limitations of geography and history.
Historically, Middle Eastern contingencies have been well-supported by ships based in Norfolk, Virginia, and Mayport, Florida. Four of the seven aircraft carriers that supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991 deployed from the East Coast. Throughout the protracted confrontation with Iraq that continued over the ensuing decade, the homeports of the deploying naval forces alternated between the U.S Atlantic and Pacific Fleet. While that seems to suggest that continuing the existing basing arrangements would adequately support the needs of Central Command, there are political developments that may affect the deployment calculus. The viability of a strategy based on existing deployment patterns could be dramatically altered should access to the Suez Canal change.