This week in a speech in Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about his plan to build a 350-ship Navy, boosting spending on current programs and creating two new ship designs. But affordability is a key detail in any procurement discussion, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that the Romney camp is still fleshing out. Romney also did not identify any new requirements for a 350-ship fleet.
There is no doubt shipbuilding is a priority for whomever occupies the White House for the next four years. The Navy’s current roster of ships is near its smallest since 1916, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Act authorizing a massive build-up. At Wilson’s behest and with congressional approval, the Navy built 10 battleships, six battlecruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers and other support vessels over three years, tripling the size of the sea service by 1919. Wilson’s 752-ship Navy was the high-water mark for decades, and his push leading up to World War I is credited with establishing U.S. naval dominance in the 20th century. But the expansion came at a cost — some $500 million at the time or a mere $10.2 billion in current-year dollars. But today’s ships are different by nearly all metrics — mission, capability, sophistication, size and cost among other factors.
Nearly a century later, Congress finds itself in much the same quandary as Wilson — an aging fleet of warships in need of modernization and, some say, expansion. The U.S. fleet as a whole has been on a slow decline since the late 1980s, bottoming out at 278 ships in 2007. The Navy says it needs between 310 and 316 ships to meet all its obligations around the world, a number that has remained roughly unchanged since the 1994 Quadrennial Defense Review.
The future of certain Navy and Marine Corps programs remain in doubt while a temporary legislative funding measure takes effect on Monday. A little over a week ago, Congress approved a six-month spending package that will give the House and Senate until March of 2013 to decide how to meet the nation’s financial obligations, including funding for the Department of Defense (DoD).
The so-called Continuing Resolutions (CR), allow the government to remain open and operating but they also prevent DoD from starting any new programs and require funding levels for current programs to remain essentially the same. For the DoD overall, the funding continuation means a half-percent increase in the topline, but restrictions in the bill hit the Navy and Marine Corps especially hard. Shipbuilding programs could stall and multi-year buys of fighter and vertical lift aircraft could be put off, driving up costs and impacting readiness.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departs Naval Station Norfolk and begins a towing operation to Northrop Grumman Newport News Ship Building for a Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) in 2009. U.S. Navy Photo.
But the Navy’s two biggest issues in the CR were funding for a pair of aircraft carrier midlife maintenance projects called RCOHs or Refueling and Complex Overhaul. USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is scheduled to finish its three-year, $2.5 billion rebuild in June 2013, but the CR funded only half of the expected costs. USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is scheduled to start its downtime next year as well, but new programs are specifically prohibited under the CR.
In July, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Mullalem declared that Syria’s stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons would go unused in its civil war – unless a foreign power chose to intervene. The threat constituted a rare confirmation of the regime’s unconventional arsenal. The declaration raised serious concerns about U.S. policies in the event the regime did use its chemical or biological weapons. President Obama stated this would constitute a “red line” with “enormous consequences” that would alter calculations for military actions.
Given the various risks concerned with the proliferation or use of unconventional weapons, particularly chemical weapons, understanding the scope and requirements of potential military missions is essential. The first major consideration is whether U.S. and potential allied military strikes would focus on destroying, deterring, or securing Syrian weapons stocks. While a deterrent threat can be made without any military deployment, destroying Syrian weapons of mass destruction (WMD) would require airstrikes and special operations teams. A mission to secure Syria’s WMDs would likely be the most costly and dangerous of all, as it would likely involve tens of thousands of foreign ground troops, perhaps as many as 75,000, according to at least one press report.
A sailor from the Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11, adjusts his Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear during a simulated chemical agent attack during a field training exercise in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo
A mission to destroy Syrian chemical weapons stocks could perform a preventive, preemptive or mitigating measure. Effectively degrading the entire arsenal would likely require an extremely wide target set. Syria has roughly 50 sites involved in manufacturing or storing chemical weapons. Its arsenal consists of G and V-series nerve agents, which block neurotransmitters, causing convulsions and death through loss of respiratory control, as well as blistering agents, whose chemical burns restrict respiration and form large, painful blisters on the skin. Both are absorbable through the lungs or skin, requiring a full body suit for adequate protection. Between Syria’s VX, Sarin, and Tabun nerve agents, and its mustard gas blistering agents, this totals to several hundred tons of chemical agents stockpiled for combat use.
Sea mines are historically the most dangerous threat to naval vessels. Since World War II, 15 U.S. Navy ships have damaged or destroyed from mines. Compared to torpedoes, small boat attacks and missiles, mines have caused more than four times more damage to U.S. Navy ships. Though the threat is well known, the mine countermeasure enterprise has suffered in recent years. Specifically, the U.S. Navy’s Avenger class minesweepers have had systemic maintenance and performance shortfalls. In the last year, the U.S. has moved the bulk of its minesweepers to its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain and this month has started the largest mine countermeasure exercise of its kind in the last several decades. International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 12 is currently ongoing, a partnership between the U.S. and almost 30 other countries. The U.S. Naval Institute spoke with Rear Adm. Ken Perry on Sept. 21 about the exercise, the health of the minesweeper fleet and what the exercise has to do with Iran.
Q: Could you give us a run down of the exercise?
A: The purpose is to demonstrate interoperability with our international partners to demonstrate our commitment to freedom of navigation and our ability to defend it against mine threats in particular. Our ability to conduct mine counter measure operations and mine clearance operations effectively. We had a very successful conference, a symposium, over the last couple of days it included naval leaders from the participating countries as well as industry representatives officials and other stake holders in freedom of navigation and maritime commerce and mine clearance and mine warfare capabilities. So with that symposium successfully conducted we transferred to the harbor phase where we have conducted a number of shipboard orientations for the participants including senior naval officials aboard the ships.
U.S. Avenger class minesweepers on manvuers with Royal Navy ships on Sept. 20. U.S. Navy Photo
We are sailing now toward the at-sea maneuvers where we will conduct a number of at mine counter measure evolution involving aircraft and surface ships and under sea forces, divers unmanned and under water vehicles.
U.S. Naval Institute’s Fred Schultz spoke with journalist and documentary filmmaker Sebastian Junger on Sept. 24 about Junger’s new organization dedicated to providing basic medical training to freelance frontline war reporters and photographers.
Junger created Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues following the 2011 death of photographer Tim Hetherington in Libya.
Hetherington was wounded by mortar fire while covering the conflict in Libya and died on the way to a local hospital. Junger said if fellow journalists on the scene were trained in basic first aid, Hetherington could have survived.
RISC has conducted its first intensive training session in April and his preparing for a second in New York.
Junger also discussed his view on the U.S. Afghanistan pullout and his responsibility for helping make the term “The Perfect Storm,” one of the most overused clichés in the last twenty years.
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.
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams (DDG 95) participate in a replenishment at sea on Sept. 7, 2012. U.S. Navy Photo
As more information comes in from the Sunday attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan more and more news outlets are calling the incursion of attackers dressed as U.S. Army soldiers as a “false flag,” attack. The term, originated in the maritime circles, referrers to a ship that flies a flag other than its own for military advantage. The following is a narrative from a false flag incident in World War II.
Proceedings, March 1953
On December 3, 1941, German Supreme Command announced: “An engagement has taken place fff the Australian coast between the German auxiliary cruiser Kormoran and the Australian cruiser Sydney. The German cruiser commanded by Fregattkapitan Detmers has defeated and sunk a much more heavily armed adversary. The 6,830-ton heavy cruiser Sydney went down with her entire complement of 42 officers and 603 men. As a result of the damage received in the fierce engagement, the Kormoran had to be abandoned after the victory.”
Behind this laconic statement is hidden one of the greatest dramas known to the annals of sea warfare. Two ships had fought a battle at close range, in which both were so severely damaged that within several hours one of them sank with all hands, leaving no trace, while the other was so badly burned that it had to be abandoned by its crew 140 nautical miles from the safety of land. It was not until 5 days later, when one of the Kormoran’s lifeboats reached the Australian coast, that the world learned what a great catastrophe had been enacted at sea. An air search was begun at once from western Australia, and on the tenth day after the action the exhausted crews of the Kormoran’s remaining lifeboats were saved by the Australian minesweeper, Yandra. Of the 400-man German crew, 300 were interned in Australian prison camps. We can only guess at the tragedies that occurred during these days and nights. The dead are silent, and we, the survivors, can only guess.
Australian cruiser Sydney
Nevertheless, the experiences of the survivors tell us that time can not only speed in its flight, but can also be frightfully long. Minutes become hours, and hours long days, and in a few days many a man becomes years older.
More than a decade ago, Navy leaders decided to abandon historic standards for ship-manning levels and for shipboard maintenance, supposedly to make the Navy more “business-like” and “efficient” and to make more money available to buy a new generation of ships and weapons.
But the result instead was a sharp drop in the material readiness of the surface ships and a continued decline in fleet size, which forced the leadership to work the remaining operational ships and their smaller crews harder, thus aggravating the problems.
With congressional committees, Navy inspectors and a high-level outside panel issuing increasingly shrill alarms, the leadership finally is acting to correct those mistakes.
A sailor removes deteriorated paint and rust with a disc sander on a weather deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan on Sept. 6, 2012. U.S. Navy Photo
This week, as he prepares to retire and turn over Fleet Forces Command on Friday, Adm. John C. Harvey has fired off a lengthy message to the surface warfare community and its supporting organizations warning that “the cumulative impact of individual decisions made over long periods of time had put the future readiness of our surface force at risk.”
And he charged those who will remain on watch to adhere to the old proven standards and procedures to restore the surface fleet to its historic state of combat readiness.
It was a strong message from Harvey, who had remained surprisingly quiet about the growing readiness crisis earlier in his tour at FFC.
The Pentagon indicated it will pursue legal action against Matt Bissonnette for his first hand account of the raid that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden, ”No Easy Day.”The retired U.S. Navy SEAL — who wrote the book under a pseudonym — now faces legal action for violating a series of Department of Defense non-disclosure agreements, according to press reports. Although U.S. Army PFC Bradley Manning’s alleged leaking of information to WikiLeaks and Daniel Ellsberg’s disclosure of the so-called “Pentagon’s Papers,” in the 1970s are the best-known actions against publishing sensitive information there have been several others.
Scientific American (1950)
U.S Atomic Energy Commission had the entire 3,000 copy run of the April 1950 issue destroyed on the grounds that an article by physicist Hans Bethe about thermonuclear fusion contained, “restricted data.” The fear was that the article gave too much insight into the process for developing the hydrogen bomb. A similar case would emerge in 1979 when the Department of Energy attempted to block The Progressive from publishing an article with technical information about the H-bomb. The case was dropped when it became clear that the information had already become public.
Korean Tales by Lt.Col. Melvin Voorhees (1952)
U.S. Eighth Army censor Voorhees was dismissed from the service after he was convicted by court martial in 1953 of violating regulations by not getting official clearance for his Korean Tales manuscript. The Army successfully argued that Voorhees’ book contained proprietary information that was not approved by his military superiors.
Proceedings, Sept. 2012
Carbon dioxide . . . it’s what makes our soft drinks zesty and champagne . . . well, champagne. It is also a major greenhouse gas. Absorbed into the sea it is an essential component for growth of plankton, the first stage of marine life. By contrast, excessive amounts can make some organisms sick and possibly extinct.
The beneficial role of CO2 is in the photosynthetic process that feeds phytoplankton, the microscopic plants of the sea. Carbon dioxide, solar energy and the chlorophyll pigment combine to make food for these organisms that are the first level of life in the sea. A critical byproduct of this chemistry is the respiration of oxygen by these tiny plants. The vast surface area of the World Ocean supplies 50–80 percent of Earth’s oxygen. Indeed, it is the lungs of our planet.
The sea has an enormous capacity to absorb CO2. Since the Industrial Revolution began about 1750, man’s activities have loaded the atmosphere with great quantities of it. However the oceans have been able to absorb about 50 percent of this anthropogenic CO2. Remarkably, this percentage has remained fairly constant over the past 250 years even as increasing amounts are injected into the Earth’s atmosphere. But this “carbon sequestration” comes at a price. When atmospheric CO2 dissolves in seawater there is a chemical reaction that forms carbonic acid, a very weak acid.
Scientists use the pH numerical scale to define the relative acidity or alkalinity of a solution using a range of 0–14. Distilled water is neutral at a value of 7.0. Numbers lower than this are acidic and those above are alkaline. At present the average pH for the oceans is 8.1, so it is slightly alkaline—but this number is decreasing steadily. To be clear, it is unlikely that the oceans’ pH will ever drop below 7.0, so the term “acidification” refers to relative acidity as seawater becomes less alkaline. The accompanying graph shows the relationship between dissolved CO2 and increasing acidity in the sea from the years 1850–2100 (estimated).