Home » Aviation » Report: Navy and Marine Corps Strained to Breaking Point; Second Forward Carrier in the Pacific Could Help


Report: Navy and Marine Corps Strained to Breaking Point; Second Forward Carrier in the Pacific Could Help

The U.S. Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) transits the Philippine Sea. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) transits the Philippine Sea. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Faced with insatiable demand for resources for a fleet that is already overworked and under-maintained, the Navy and the Marine Corps need to ease the strain on the services or risk “breaking the force,” according to a new report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment released on Wednesday.

“The Navy and the Marine Corps are providing the maximum forward presence — or exceeding the forward presence — they can sustainably provide based on the service’s own readiness models,” co-author of the report Bryan Clark told reporters on Tuesday in a conference call.
“That [operational tempo] that results is wearing out the force and the fleet faster, and you’ll see further impacts on the personnel side, especially as this continued high OPTEMPO starts to wear down a generation of sailors and Marines.”

While authors Clark and Jesse Sloman have uncovered little not already known to naval observers, their study collects hard numbers outlining the Navy and Marine Corps presence problems.

For example, the Navy has maintained a deployed presence of about 100 ships consistently since 1998 despite the fleet falling by 20 percent (to about 271 ships). That level of demand required surface ships and nuclear carriers to forgo maintenance to meet the demand of the regional combatant commanders — in large part to serve requirements for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

CSBA Graphic

CSBA Graphic

The Navy, in particular, has attempted for the last several years to claw back from a maintenance deficit from overly extended carrier deployments but has been stymied by sequestration reductions in defense spending due in part to the Budget Control Act of 2011.

“The backlog culminated in late 2015 with a Persian Gulf ‘carrier gap’ between the departure of the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the arrival of the USS Harry S. Truman. A second carrier gap will occur in the Pacific in 2016 and gaps will reoccur intermittently in both theaters until 2021, when the USS Gerald R. Ford becomes operationally available,” read the report.

On Tuesday Clark said the service has found the seven-month maintenance periods it has set aside for the carriers post-deployment wasn’t enough time to get the ships ready and cascaded into additional maintenance backlogs.

The former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) gets underway from its homeport at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan in 2004. US Navy Photo

The former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) gets underway from its homeport at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan in 2004. US Navy Photo

“Maintenance is really driving the problem. With the carriers we’re finding that [seven months] really isn’t enough time to do the maintenance between deployments,” he said.

The Navy is currently working to create a more predictable model for carrier strike group — a 36-month maintenance, deployment and readiness cycle called Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP). The Navy has argued that by putting maintenance at the beginning of the cycle, the ships will be able to stay in the yard the for the full scheduled maintenance period — whereas today, a ship might have its deployment extended, which gets it into the yard late and often means work gets skipped to stay on schedule.

The recently departed Truman CSG deployment is the first to operate under the plan that promises seven-month deployments, a six-month maintenance cycle and a 15-month readiness period in which the crew and flyers of the CSG would maintain their skills in the event they would need to deploy quickly in an emergency.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 12.07.09 PM

CSBA Graphic

However, Clark said that the OFRP’s 15-month readiness period is an expensive concept, and the Navy has to cut funds for sustainment periods in similar deployment schemes in the past.

“The Navy hasn’t been really paying for [sustainment],” Clark said.

The report did offer some suggestions to mitigate the strain of the current status quo of overworked ships, sailors and Marines.

“The options that are available to them are either building more ships or a larger force — which may not be fiscally possible. You could expand forward basing. Get more readiness out of each individual ship by increasing OPTEMPO,” Clark said.

CSBA Graph

CSBA Graphic

Notable among the report’s suggestions on how to increase presence without breaking the back of the fleet was to forward deploy a second carrier to the Pacific to ease the burden of the sending ships from the West Coast to patrol the region.

The Navy could consider moving a second carrier to the Pacific to operate in conjunction with the forward deployed USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and sharing berthing space at Yokosuka, Japan.

“Japan would be the best option to add a second carrier, if you wanted to do it quickly,” Clark said.
While adding an additional carrier forward isn’t a new notion and one the Navy isn’t currently studying, the study has piqued the interest of some in Congress.

“The report illuminates the utility of deploying an additional forward-based carrier in the Pacific theater. You really cannot ignore the benefits, both for the Asia-Pacific and for the Middle East and Mediterranean maritime hubs,” a Senate staffer told USNI News.
“The Navy, U.S. Pacific Command [PACOM], Congress and our allies like Japan who could potential host another carrier are going to have to think really hard about exploiting this opportunity.”

From the Report:
Forward-based forces are able to provide more presence than those based in CONUS for several reasons:

  • They either do not have to transit to and from their operating areas or have a much shorter transit time than their CONUS-based counterparts.
  • They do not undergo deep maintenance periods such as overhauls. When an overhaul is due, the ship or aircraft is swapped out with a new platform. The crew generally swaps out as well and remains forward with the new ship.
  • They do not conduct extensive retraining between operational periods. Because they operate so often, forward based ship and aircraft crews are often able to maintain a higher level of proficiency than their CONUS-based counterparts.

In addition to another forward deployed carrier, the report suggested the Navy find ways to both moderate COCOM demand and offer commanders different options that would stress the force less.

The Navy has been exploring the use of so-called alternative force packages designed to augment the capabilities of existing ships and create non-traditional naval options for the COCOMs. For example, the Navy’s surface forces are exploring using more surface action groups for high-end military presence missions instead of a much larger carrier strike group.

“Maybe these alternative force packages would have the effect of reducing the demand signal [from the COCOM], maybe these alterative changing it from one size fits all to an a la carte menu,” Clark said.

  • PolicyWonk

    This is why the navy needs to smarten up, and get off the gold-plated version of everything syndrome. part of smartening up would mean either licensing the design of, or creating a CVL design based on the LHA-6 class – and start building smaller carriers again to supplement the CVN fleet.

    The smaller carriers will better distribute our assets, cost a fraction of what a USS Ford costs, and provide (with the advent of smart weapons) a very potent punch.

    • sferrin

      Small carriers are a non-starter. There aren’t even enough aircraft in the fleet to fill the ships we have. Also, and this should be obvious, the cost of the Fords will come down as they get down the learning curve. The USN is plenty smart. Your idea would leave us with maybe 8 carrier wannabes and 2 Fords. To your average politician, a carrier is a carrier. (Another thing that is perfectly obvious to anybody who’s been paying attention.) Furthermore, now you have the additional cost of another ship type and the whole maintenance/supply chain that goes with it. Save the, “ooooh this would be soooper cool if only the US Navy weren’t so stooped” nonsense for the kiddies.

      • PolicyWonk

        If we’re using an existing ship type (for example: LHA-6) then many of the incompatibility problems simply go away. Even after the Fords cost comes down to their projected price, a Queen Elizabeth class carrier costs *half* of what a Ford Costs (2 QE’s vs. 1 Ford), and an LHA-6 carrier costs even less (3 LHA-6’s to 1 Ford – conservatively).

        And since we’re not putting a full load of aircraft onto our carriers now, does it make sense to continue buying only large deck carriers – especially given the costs – and the fact that our HoR can’t get themselves to fix the revenue problems that helped lead to the worst economic crisis since the Great Deression? Costs that could go to purchasing more aircraft instead of the platform they’re supposed to land on?

        Not according to an ever growing number of defense analysts, and a number of folks in the USN itself.

      • 2IDSGT

        However, we could push our allies to take up a fairer share of the burden by building their own light carriers. The F-35B makes this possible with its ability to operate off of smaller/cheaper ships.

    • Matt Pope

      Interesting suggestion. What would you envision the air wing aboard a CVL to look like? F-35Bs (assuming it ever gets deployed) and helos)? Would a light carrier be more of a CAS, anti-ship/sub platform?

      • PolicyWonk

        For example, take a look at the typical air wing on the Foch. Our “small” carriers (such as those used by the ‘Gator’ navy), are about the same size as our allies general carriers (the USA is the only nation with “super” carriers, and the super carriers don’t carry a full load anymore). You can also look at the carrier wing compositions the Brits are looking to field with the QE class.

        We could use F-35B’s off of the LHA-6 class/type flat-tops, and deploy them in regions that don’t have hugely sophisticated A2/D2 (for example: China), until at least we are able to deploy some serious stand-off weapons (the F-35 is a short-range fighter, ill suited to the Pacific under these circumstances, at least during wartime). V-22’s can be configured for air-refueling, which could also help the cause.

        Note there’s still a lot of the world left, where we still patrol on a regular basis.

        If we use traditional CATOBAR on smaller carriers, we could deploy F-18’s like we do now, and we could certainly use them for anti-ship/sub platforms if need be.

  • Big mistake, I mean a really big mistake, was the decommissioning of all the US Navy’s Destroyer Tenders and Repair Ships. The idea was for a carrier to assume the role. They have extensive workshops and could during normal operations assist. NOW there is not much corporate knowledge in the Navy, ie. Pattermakers, molders, machinery repairmen, etc to man any recommissioned ships. They could be operated by the MSC with a civilian crew and navy repair personnel. We are now paying the price for lousey leadership both in Congress and the Navy. Seems like the big zeros were spiting to windward. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

    • Fred Gould

      Fully agree. Not only did tenders provide much needed forward deployed maintenance, their personnel often augmented a ship’s company to maintain combat effectiveness.

  • sragsd0416

    The US needs to make a critical and key “REALISTIC” decision and it needs to do so immediately. We either build our forces to meet the need, or scale them back to meet the constraints of today’s fiscal responsibilities. There is nothing more dangerous than fatigued equipment and exhausted sailors using them.

    • FedUpWithWelfareStates

      Archaic, Out-dated, Dysfunctional, Risk Adverse, Lack of Forward Thinking, etc. These are just a few descriptions of our military’s lack of vision that still see them operating under post WWII models, which are as archaic & dysfunctional, as their Pacific basing strategy is.

      It has been feed the status quo year after year since WWII, with any
      change only designed to increase the budget…NOT streamline OUR military for the 21st Century & beyond.

      The USMC is playing their usual “Poor, poor, pitiful me,” routine, all the while wasting billions on outdated models for amphibious missions/landings, EFVs, F35s, & a host of other big ticket items, which they cannot afford, so their tact is to spend, spend, spend, then cry crocodile tears to congress & the American people through their well-oiled PR machine, but one thing they did not take into consideration, was
      that like any politicians mantra, or even the same old commercial, is that the American People will eventually see through the B/S & call you on it.

      Me thinks that the USMC has outlived its shelf-life based on the heavy human capital expenditures of WWII, only promoting the partial truth about the Korean & Vietnam wars, & prematurely claiming victory in Fallujah.

      They might have just painted their Corps into a corner insomuch as their usefulness in the 21st century & beyond “Unless,” they seriously get their champagne dreams back in-line with their discount beer budget & consider re-organizing into a modern “Amphibious Force,” under SOCOM.

      Enough with this so-called “Elite within an Elite” USMC being pursued. Time to realize that the expansion brought on during the Iraq & Afghanistan debacles is over. What is needed is a TRUE “Special Operations Amphibious Force,” where they are NOT trying to do the Army’s conventional ground force mission when it suits them, NOT trying to maintain their very own fixed wing air force, NOT trying to “Hit the Beach,” by practicing Amphibious Assaults right off Onslow Beach, Camp Pendleton, or Oura Wan Bay, instead of practicing them from 100 NM off shore & concentrating on the “Amphibious Raid,” as their bread & butter…

      • magic3400

        Well that’s never going to happen. The day we give up our jets is the day there is no more Marine Corps.

        And don’t blame the Corps for the TOTALLY asinine way the Iraq war was fought. It was done on the cheap because it was sold to the American people as a quick and easy (read CHEAP) war of choice.

        If Rumfeld et al had admitted they really did need an additional Army division it would have blown a hole in their poorly crafted lie. So what does a liar do? He forces the Marine Corps to become that additional division and then create some bullshit known as Stop Loss.

        So unscramble your signals, you are a bit confused.

        The only people that mention today’s Marine Corps and WWII are people that know little about today’s Marine Corps.

        AND…PLEASE, stop whining about the F-35, it’s a done deal. The good, bad and ugly…it’s here to stay. It’s the plane we got so deal with it.

  • edgeoh

    It would have been nice to depot for ONLY seven months back in the 70’s and 80’s. Funny how those non nuclear carriers , Forestall and Kitty Hawk class, were able to handle the tempo let alone the people. Nine months was normal with a world cruise lasting a year thrown in once in a long while.

    • Fred Gould

      Remember when the Saratoga sank in Falron Bay due to lack of maintenance? I was on the Cascade anchored a few hundred yards away.

      • edgeoh

        Nope never heard about it.

        • Fred Gould

          Admiral Gilchrist had it in both of his books, one is titled “Tomcat, The Grumman F14 Story”. Deferred maintenance and excessive op tempo allowed a shaft seal in on engine room to fail. Three of four firerooms were flooded, causing her to sink. As there was only about 5 feet under the keel, she just settled to the bottom. Gilchrist, the CAG at the time, catapulted all aircraft off and had them based throughout the eastern Med.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            FLOODING was in TWO Machinery Compartment’s while Anchored in the Faiiro Bay, Athens, Greece. In December 1973 or January 1974. Flooding DOES NOT, Constitute SINKING…

          • Fred Gould

            Read his book. If you depend upon news and web sites you do not get the whole story. I guess you have extensive time in the military. According to our divers, she was on the bottom, The bay is very shallow in places.

      • edgeoh

        Can’t find anything about it!

        • Fred Gould

          Admiral Gilchrist mentioned it in both of his books. Can’t remember the title of his autobiography. The one I do have is “Tomcat, the Grumman F14 Story”. Maybe in the library. Problem was that due to paying for VN the rest of the military was worn down. Just business as usual since the founding of the Republic.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            Don’t EVER become a Fact Checker, because you SUCK AT IT. CV-3, USS. Saratoga was used a Target ZERO in 1 July 1946. At Test Baker, the Marshall Islands during Operation: Crossroads. During an Underwater Atomic Bomb Test, and Subsequently SUNK on site in 15 August 1946. Because Saratoga didn’t SINK in the Atomic Bomb Blast.

            CV-60, Saratoga was towed from NavSta Newport, from Providence, RI. in 21 August 2014 to Brownsville, TX. for SCRAPPING in 16 September 2014. The “Bay” mentioned was Narragansett Bay (NOT “Falron Bay”, which DOESN’T EVEN EXIST anywhere on the Planet called EARTH) where “Well Wisher’s” collected to see the Saratoga off as she transient the Bay, to her Final Demise…

          • Fred Gould

            Falron Bay is Athens Greece. I was there and have pictures. as it happened in 71 or 72. We were to provide an availability to a destroyer squadron at the time in Palma Spain. Due to her sinking, we, along with our 5 destroyers shifted from Spain to Greece. The incident is well documented by Adm Gilchrist in both of his books. It was also mentioned in the newspaper the Daily American as one aviator, against orders used after burner over the tourist beached in Piareas. I had a best friend on board her at the time. We later served together on board the USS Holland.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            YOUR SPELLING IS OFF “SIR”! There’s the Bay of Phalerum in Ancient Greek and Faliro Bay in Modern Greek off Athens. BUT STILL NO, KNOWN ship sinking by any American Ship Designated the “Saratoga”…

          • Fred Gould

            Having spent over three months, at various times in Athens, I have zero Greek language skills. The USS Saratoga CV60 did settle to the bottom of the bay due to a defective shaft seal. Read the Admiral’s autobiography. As for sinking, you can add the USS Greene DD711. In 1970 or 71 she sank along side us in NS Newport.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            Navy Records talk about FLOODING, NOTHING MENTION about Settling Too The Bottom of Bay. Depth of Shipping Lane Area’s of Bay exceeds 50-meters. If Saratoge had settle to the Bottom of Bay, water would have also Flooded Hanger Deck and covered the Flight Deck as well.

            Greene, collided with a Oiler in the “Med” while refueling, Minor Damage resulted, BUT NO “Sinking”. Only Sinking occurred when Spanish Navy used Hulk of Ship as Target Practice in 1991.

            Rear Admiral Paul T. Gillcrist, (June 1977 to October 1985, when he retired) “served” on the Saratoga in 1971 to 1972. ONE SLIGHT PROBLEM THOUGH, Saratoga was NEVER NEAR THE “MED” and Sailed from Mayport Floridia in 1971. And was on “Yankee Station Duty” in 1972 at Subic Bay in the Philippines.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            Four Biographies,
            1. Feet Wet: Reflections of a Carrier Pilot (1990),
            2. Tomcat!: The Grumman F14 Story (1994),
            3. Crusader!: Last of the Gunfighters (1995), and
            4. Vulture’s Row: Thirty Years in Naval Aviation (1996)…

          • Fred Gould

            72-73 we were stripped of ships to go to VN. Several ships that I had friends on board spent more than a year undwerway, away from homeport. As for harbor depth, I manned the fathometer during sea detail. At one anchorage we had less than ten feet under our keel Harbor control assigned anchorages for all ships, military and civilian. After we anchored during the incident, I along with possibly 10 people on board both ships heard the voice radio comms between Sara and us. The call sign used was for Sara actual (CO). What has happened frequently fails to be documented in any form.

          • Secundius

            @ Fred Gould.

            I was NEVER in the Navy. The “Accountings” I found, I Pulled up through “Back-Channel” Internet Sites. If your “Accouts” ARE True, they Never Posted them in any “Official” Record I could Find…

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Bring back the Tenders/Repair ships. Even if they are MSC crewed. We need AR’s like the old Vulcan, AD’s like the Yellowstone in places like Guam where one AS is already, Japan, all of the ports in CONUS. Rota, Crete, in the UK. Bahrain, etc. In the late 70’s we did a deployment and the old USS Vulcan AR-5 came along and She was very helpful. and if you want a place for a 2nd Carrier in the western pacific then Guam would be a good place. Plus a T-AO, TAK, a destroyer squadron too. Putting both Carriers in the same forward deploy base could be a mistake. Make Guam the Fortress of the the Western Pacific.

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  • magic3400

    How about allowing Marine vets 38-55 to return to duty in garrison, teaching and support billets in a Marine Auxiliary Corps freeing active duty Marines for deployment.

  • James Bowen

    How about this. We scale down our commitments to include only those that are of vital importance to the defense of the U.S. and quit trying to be the savior of the world. On top of that, we build the fleet up to at least 400 ships and submarines and give sailors the equipment they need to do their job. Does this sound like a reasonable plan?

    • Fred Gould

      Never get through Congress.

      • James Bowen

        The current situation is on a collision course with reality. Either we downscale our commitments and/or build up the fleet, or the Navy collapses. It’s that simple.

        • Fred Gould

          It is the early 70’s all over again when V/N almost destroyed the US military. Far more missions than and commitments than ships. Ships were falling apart, held together by concrete in the bilges. Crews steamed to exhaustion. To keep up the numbers, many not suitable for military service were allowed in, devastating discipline and readiness. One of my Brothers-in-law extended in V/N so he wouldn’t have to go to Germany. Drugs and alcohol abuse widespread. I was on board the USS Cascade at the time.

          • James Bowen

            Very interesting. I know that a related problem we had in the early 70’s was the block obsolescence of much of the surface fleet. Many of those ships had been scarcely upgraded and modernized despite the enormous changes in naval combat technology since the end of World War II, and this over-commitment was part of the reason why.

            One thing that has made the current situation worse is that the Navy has been drawing down for the last 25 years in spite of these increased commitments. The post-Cold War drawdowns in the 90’s were too steep and hit the Navy especially hard. It made sense to retire ships like Belknap-class cruisers and Adams-class destroyers, but it went way too far to retire Los Angeles-class submarines and Spruance-class destroyers: modern ships which had a lot of service life left on them at that time. Matters were made worse by shuttering key shipyards like Mare Island, which will make a future buildup much more difficult than past buildups were. For a brief time in the very late 90’s and very early 2000’s there was some recognition of all this.

            Incredibly, that recognition had completely disappeared down the memory hole by 2004 when the Navy started drawing down again. On top of that, on the aviation side, the Navy got rid of its most capable air frames and went completely to the jack of all trades master of none F/A-18. We now have the smallest fleet we have had in over a hundred years (yes–even that woefully inadequate fleet immediately prior to World War II that was imposed by the Washington Naval Treaty was larger than the current fleet).

          • Fred Gould

            The F18 was part of the transformation policy, which ever aspect of has failed. As for ships, not visible enough for Congress. Don’t listen to what they say, watch how they vote. We have never had many friends in Congress. On my first ship, I was trained by Chiefs and officers that had WWII experience. On my first shore assignment I worked for two men who were Asiatic sailors. What we are seeing is absolutely just business as usual. For reference review the Naval Institutes guides to USN ship type histories. I have all but the two volumes on submarines.

          • James Bowen

            Yes. What amazes me, however, is how the tone of the Navy brass changed. 15 years ago there was open concern being expressed among admirals that we didn’t have enough ships and planes to do the missions we were being assigned. Within just a few short years though, that talk had disappeared and we kept hearing all kinds of talk about how the size of the Navy is more than adequate and that we could take on more missions. Added to this was the utter stupidity of sending sailors to Iraq and Afghanistan as “IA’s”, as if the work the Navy did was not important.

          • Fred Gould

            When the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars stated, dissent from the brass was not allowed. Google Generals Zinni and Van Ripper for more information.

          • James Bowen

            This is very interesting. Thank you for bringing my attention to this. I was not aware of this 2002 exercise.

          • Curtis Conway

            Refurbished and improved F-14 Tomcats would have fit the bill about now. Perhaps Gen 6.

          • Fred Gould

            Read a article a few weeks ago where several Admirals are stating we should have gone with Tomcat 21 rather than the F18 and F35. To add insult also complained about decommissioning the repair ships and depending upon for profit yards for all forward deployed repairs. A black hole that suck torrents of money.

          • Curtis Conway

            It’s hard to trust maintenance not performed by your own people. Anti-team it is!

  • vincedc

    The study may work on the hardware, but it does not consider the wear and tear on the sailors. Ship’s company is a dynamic group. It has turnover as sailors enter and leave. There needs to be time for these people to learn to work together as a crew. A sailor is not an interchangeable module that can be dropped into a slot like a new light bulb. Also longer deployments at sea wear down the crew at an exponential pace. We see this in the WESTPAC deployments now. Longer deployments look good in a Washington think tank, but leave a lot to be desired when you are underway.

  • Antonio LaMotta

    in about a year or two, all ships will be sitting ducks.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Surface Action Groups, In the Pacific America needs to make GUAM a Home port of a Squadron of Destroyers to go along with the Submarines already there. With Guam being a nice deep water port that Carriers can get in and out. Then Homeport a carrier there too. Fortress GUAM. My Dad was there for 2 years. He said it is not that big but it was nice even with 30,000 Americans there back in the Forties

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