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Opinion: Maintaining American Seapower

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) transits the Gulf of Aden in 2014. US Navy Photo

USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) transits the Gulf of Aden in 2014. US Navy Photo

Facing an increasing array of threats and demands even as our budgetary situation grows more challenging, it is clear that the Navy and Marine Corps team offers the best value to advance both our global security and economic interests.

Uniquely, the Navy and Marine Corps provide presence around the world, around the clock. We are the nation’s first line of defense, ready for any challenge on the horizon. Presence means we respond faster; remain on station longer; carry everything we need with us; and do whatever missions our nation’s leaders assign us without needing anyone else’s permission.

America was born a maritime nation, and we have always known that its success depends on an exceptional Navy and Marine Corps. Article I of the U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to “raise” armies when needed, but directs it to “provide and maintain a navy.” From the first six frigates to our growing Fleet of today, from Tripoli to Afghanistan, sailors and Marines have proved the Founders’ wisdom. American leaders across the political spectrum have understood the vital significance of sea power.

Nearly half the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the sea; 90 percent of global trade goes by sea; and 95 percent of all voice and data transfer occurs via cable under the ocean. The shelves of our stores are stocked with products from all over the globe. Some 38 million American jobs are directly linked to seaborne international trade. For seven decades, the Navy and Marine Corps have been the primary protectors of maintaining open sea lanes and freedom of commerce, giving rise to an international trade system that has created unprecedented economic growth and helped deter major conflict.

To provide the presence needed to maintain that system, and to meet the demands of a national defense strategy that clearly is focused on the maritime domain—with its emphasis on a rebalance to the Pacific—we need to maintain our investment in maritime assets.

The presence that the Navy and Marine Corps uniquely deliver, and our influence around the world together are built on four foundations: people, platforms, power and partnerships. Those are the keys to the capability, capacity, and success of our naval services. They remain my top priorities.

Tomorrow I’ll be on Capitol Hill to talk with the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense about the Navy and Marine Corps posture, readiness, and budget for next year. Overall the president’s Fiscal Year 2016 budget balances current readiness necessary to execute assigned missions while sustaining a highly capable Fleet, all within a tough fiscal climate. That climate demands the most rigorous examination of every dollar we spend, and aggressive efforts to cut unnecessary costs.

For the past few years the Department of the Navy has attempted to minimize the impact of an uncertain budgetary environment that has been marked by numerous continuing resolutions, the imposition of sequester-level funding, and the threat of the return of sequestration. That environment has made it more difficult—but even more critical—to set priorities and make hard choices.

We remain committed to providing our sailors, Marines, and our civilians with the training and support they need to maintain our naval presence—and we include in that their dedicated families and our wounded veterans. We’ve launched a comprehensive approach to assure the world’s healthiest, most resilient and best-educated force, and we are exploring innovative means to improve recruitment and retention.

But our personnel, as good as they are, cannot do their jobs without platforms. Providing presence—being where we are needed, when we are needed—requires ships, submarines, aircraft, and attendant equipment. Quantity has a quality all its own. That means we must have a properly sized and balanced fleet.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the Navy’s battle force stood at 316 ships. By 2008, our Fleet had declined to 278 ships. America’s focus on two ground wars only partly explains the decline. In the five years before I assumed this position, the Navy contracted for just 27 ships, not enough to stop the slide in the size of the Fleet. In my first five years in office we contracted for 70 ships, halting and reversing that decline. By the end of the decade, our Fleet will once again top 300 ships.

Without the right fleet, the Navy and Marine Corps will not be able to meet the demand placed on them by their need to respond to world events. In the face of budgetary uncertainty, cutting ships is the most damaging and least reversible course of action, which is why I am committed to preserving shipbuilding.

Fueling the ships, aircraft, and vehicles of our Navy and Marine Corps is a vital operational concern and enables our global presence. That’s why the Navy has a history of innovation, especially in energy. We led the shift from sail to steam and steam to oil, and the U.S. Navy pioneered nuclear-power propulsion.

Over the past six years the fuels market has seen incredible price volatility. New domestic sources are reducing our reliance on foreign oil, but cannot stop the wild price fluctuations. At the same time, the competition for power and energy and the use of fuel as an economic weapon remains a critical international security issue. Our national security interests, and the ability of the Navy and Marine Corps to meet their missions, must be enhanced by increasing their energy diversity and efficiency.

Maintaining presence and advancing global security must also be augmented through partnerships. Cooperation helps make us more effective, diffuses tensions, and reduces misunderstandings. While we commonly lead efforts around the world, we work closely with allies and partners to increase interoperability and establish relationships that help keep the peace.

Whenever America has called, the Navy and Marine Corps have always been there. In order to ensure that we continue to provide the naval force that our nation’s leaders and the American people expect, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Chief of Naval Operations, and I will work together with Congress to “maintain” our great Navy and Marine Corps. Because in the words of President Theodore Roosevelt “A good navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

  • NavySubNuke

    Sorry but adding little crappy ships and other support ships to the “battle fleet” does not mean we have actually halted or reversed the decline — it just means we have lowered the bar enough we can slide over it.
    The US Navy is without a doubt the greatest Navy on the planet but we can’t deploy the entire fleet at once and each ship can only be in one place at a time. The growing sophistication of adversary defenses – supersonic sea skimming anti-ship missiles, anti-ship ballistic missile – combined with the declines in the combat capable portions of the battle fleet – especially the losses in SSNs and capable surface combatants – mean the navy is able to do less and less every year. That translates into increasingly long deployments – which drives more and more of our best sailors out of uniform.
    The fact that SECNAV really thinks the problems has not only be stopped but has actually been reversed shows how out of touch he is with the reality of what the Navy is and what the Navy needs to be.
    Hopefully Carter is able to see through smoke like this and get a handle on the fleet situation so that his successor in the next administration at least has the building blocks in place to actually stop and reverse the decline – rather then just claiming to have done so.

    • Tony

      I agree. LCS does not have the ASUW capability or on-station time of a FFG-7, it currently has no ASW or MCM capability, and there are significant concerns about its ability to do either one of those missions in the future. Furthermore, with 4 LCS in commission now, only one has (or is, to be more exact) conducted an operational deployment (I refuse to accept the revisionist idea the Navy is putting forward that last year’s deployment of USS FREEDOM was the “inaugural” deployment of LCS, since they made such a big deal of publicizing it as an “R&D” deployment at the time – whatever THAT is!).

      I remain convinced that LCS represents a strategic mistake of epic proportions.

      • PolicyWonk

        BTW – From what I recall, Ray Mabus is one of the few cheerleaders who bought into the LCS concept (and continues to support it despite its obvious failings, staggering cost overruns, lack of ROI, etc.).

        The original concept isn’t/wasn’t the problem – its what it became (and costs) that so disappoints.

        • Bill

          But, more ships will give him more politicized naming opportunities. USS Obama!

          • PolicyWonk

            Maybe we should have a USS Obama – after all – the nation is now doing vastly better on both the international and economic fronts.

            Obama did inherit a nation at the beginning of the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression, at the end of the worst string of foreign policy and national security disasters in history, while being left with a military at its lowest state of readiness since Viet Nam, and a crushing loss in the Global War on Terror – thanks to the GOP’s outstanding brand of “leadership”.

            Like him or not (and he’s hardly ideal, to be generous), unlike his GOP predecessor, Obama is on track to leaving this nation in vastly better shape than it was when he inherited it.

        • James B.

          The LCS designs’ most optimistic projections never met the minimum specs laid down. The program should have died on the drawing board.

          • PolicyWonk

            Indeed, one of the dubious distinctions of LCS, is that it, too, is unable to meet its reduced mission requirements.

            I’m all for cutting corporate welfare programs like this, and prosecuting those who seek to continue defrauding the taxpayers.

  • Curtis Conway

    “Maintaining presence and advancing global security must also be augmented through partnerships. Cooperation helps make us more effective, diffuses tensions, and reduces misunderstandings.”
    So Mr. Secretary, why are we not maintaining a presence in the South China Sea and East China Sea 24/7-365?

  • silencedogoodreturns

    Why is SecNav worried about fuels? He can always use some of his vegetable oil, right? And he hasn’t said a word about Obama vetoing the Keystone Pipeline, so apparently is isn’t too concerned about secure oil supplies.

    • PolicyWonk

      Keystone isn’t even slightly about American oil supplies – its about Canada sending oil to American refineries/ports for sale on the global market.

      • RedStatePatriot

        You do realize that oil is a commodity right…. as in it does not matter where the oil goes, it still effects the supply in the US and World market. Gezzzz, really do they not even teach the most basic economics in school anymore?

        • John Richter

          My problem with Keystone is the company’s history of the extensive use of Eminent Domain to get the land they need for their projects. There seems something wrong with a foreign for profit company being able to use Eminent Domain to grab land from American citizens in order to be able to ship their product overseas.

          • Chuck

            Indeed, the party that claims eminent domain infringes on property rights aren’t going to care about being hypocritical when it comes down to installing a pipeline that infringes on the rights of even their voters who’s property is in the way.

            Then again, the GOP has repeatedly made a lot of policy decisions detrimental to the American people, due purely visceral hatred of the POTUS, who took the Oval Office away from them. This anger persists, despite the the fact the previous incumbent gave the lousiest performance of a chief executive in a century.

            Talk about having a sense of entitlement!

        • Chuck

          You do realize that the argument claiming Keystone helps US energy independence is total rubbish, right? It has been proven and re-proven many times.

          The economic argument foisted by the supporters of that pipeline has been repeatedly de-bunked – but that doesn’t stop folks from still making the same claims.

      • silencedogoodreturns

        you don’t think the US can only “slightly” get oil from Canada? Continue with head firmly in ground.

        • Chuck

          We don’t need to, because we’re exporting more energy than ever. US energy consumption is going DOWN, and continues to drop. If we’re exporting, we don’t need to import.

          Go and re-learn your basic economics.

          • silencedogoodreturns

            we’re not net exporters of oil. We import large quantities of oil, much from very unsavory regimes. and consumption is only down because we are on an extended recession.
            Go re-learn your basic facts.

  • publius_maximus_III

    More destroyers, Mr. Sectretary — always have been and always will be the backbone of the Navy. That’s the key to “Maintaining American Seapower.”

    • Curtis Conway

      I would really like to see more REAL Frigates! NOT, the LCS variety.

  • Jeremy

    Great article and it points to some really great facts on the importance of a powerful Navy in today’s world. Its too bad that the average politicians are not as informed as some of us readers here. Many of us are complaining about programs and what strategic roles the Navy is making. This has little to do with the Navy Secretary nor the top brass, it’s all political and the decisions are up to the politicians. In fact, even if the Navy Secretary wants to make change, if he challenges the President and his objectives, he’s done. So, if you don’t like specific programs or want to see changes to maintain a powerful Navy, petition your members of Congress and Senate.

  • James Bowen

    When trying to gain public support for strengthening the Navy, it is necessary to inform that it is the most vital of the services regarding the defense of the North American continent. A pro-military yet war-weary public, as we currently have, is not going to be impressed with arguments about power projection and influencing events abroad. However, if done correctly, they probably would be impressed by arguments that emphasize that a good navy could stop cold any potential enemies who seek to attack the U.S. at a location of our choosing far from U.S. shores.

  • John Richter

    So many wars to fight and not enough resources. Do we concentrate on terrorism? Cyber attacks? Domestic invasion from an enemy country? Air power, sea power? We can’t go off in a hundred directions at once.

  • gregormendel

    “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

    Is that our Sec. of the Navy quoting Stalin? Nice…

  • olesalt

    The country that has the most number of high-tech ships, with the latest weaponries, and well trained officers and specialists will “Rule the Waves”. Added to this would be a first class fighting-fit Marine Corps. We hope this country will continue to be the US, with its traditionally strong and experienced USN and the US Marine Corps. However, with present budget constraints and American politics, there could be major problems including US “pivot to the Asia”.