Proceedings, January 2013
A close observer of defense-spending trends takes a look at dollars and sense and the looming budget challenges in the Pentagon.
Defense-budget headlines of late have concentrated on sequestration, as hand-wringing increased about the so-called fiscal cliff. Most coverage has focused on defense officials predicting dire consequences for the Department of Defense (DOD), or industry officials warning of job losses and collapse of certain technology sectors and associated businesses. The U.S. Naval Institute recently hosted Defense Forum Washington with a program titled “The Fiscal Cliff: What Does This Mean for Defense and National Security?” The conference focused on sequestration and its impacts. Speakers and panelists offered different perspectives on impact, ranging from disaster to a mere “pothole,” and on occurrence from irresponsible to a fait accompli that should happen to provoke fundamental changes in DOD.
Two weeks before budget-makers face the fiscal cliff deadline, there continues to be a great deal of uncertainty within the Pentagon. If the sequestration trigger goes into effect, program offices will be forced to cut billions of dollars from line items across the board. But within the Navy’s shipbuilding office, planners are already dealing with cuts that could impact the Virginia-class submarine program. The Navy and Congress have fought hard to institute a buy-rate of two Virginia-class boats a year, laying the groundwork for a five-year buy of the newest fast attack boat, beginning in 2014. But when the Navy delivered its budget request earlier this year, one submarine had been moved from the front of the line to the back so that budget planners could meet spending top lines mandated by last year’s Budget Control Act.
“We did not have sufficient headroom to fully fund the second boat in 2014,” Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official, told the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee in April.
With a price tag of more than $2 billion, it’s easy to see how a submarine that’s two years away from construction ended up on the chopping block. But the costs associated with each boat have come down significantly since the program began, and opponents of the cut say removing one boat from the program now could reverse that trend.
USS Hawaii returns to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after completing a six-month deployment to the western Pacific region In November. U.S. Navy Photo
The Navy estimates that sliding the submarine back to Fiscal Year 2014 from 2018 would reduce the total cost of the other nine boats in the current multiyear deal by roughly $900 million. Cost savings on par with the Navy’s estimate mean building the sub in 2014 would be 35 percent cheaper than doing it four years later. Virginia-class shipbuilders General Dynamic Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding add that the continuity of two boats in 2014 would help maintain stability between the supplier base and the workforce.
Proceedings, December 2012
The Navy’s future leaders should go to General Quarters with so many commanding officers being in the headlines lately.
A young submariner once wrote, “It is integrity that bonds the crew of a submarine so tightly together that when faced with any circumstance, each individual can trust his shipmate to meet the needs of the moment.” This anonymous sailor went on to make the comparison between integrity in professional conduct and the physical integrity of a ship. 1 It seems that officers in today’s Navy need to extend this analogy to address integrity in personal conduct.
Now-retired Vice Admiral Thomas Kilcline brought the issue of personal integrity to the fore in 2010 through a concept called “The Whole Sailor.” 2 Unfortunately, the rate of personal misconduct, specifically among commanding officers (COs), has only increased. In the Summer 2012 Naval War College Review , Navy Captain Mark Light sought to bring attention to integrity problems at the command level through an analysis of COs who were “detached for cause (DFC)” from 1999 to 2010. He pointed out that in 2010, 13 DFCs were due to personal misconduct, compared with a total of 29 in the prededing decade. Since that analysis concluded in 2010, 25 COs (not counting the most recent incident involving the command of the USS Vandegrift [FFG-48]) have been fired for integrity related incidents. 3 Whether or not these numbers represent a real deterioration of integrity among COs—or just heavier focus on personal conduct from senior leadership—a seemingly never-ending stream of embarrassing headlines (“Submarine commander sunk after allegedly faking death to end affair”) and a desensitized tone from the public (“Navy Skippers: The Gift that Keeps on Giving”) are unquestionably cause for alarm. 4
To be fair, senior Navy leaders have not hesitated in taking immediate action. For one, the Navy has been forthright regarding the behavior of its COs. It is easy to find articles about COs being fired for personal misconduct, but it is difficult to find credible instances of the Navy covering up such behavior. Meanwhile, strict new requirements for screening potential commanders, such as written tests, oral boards, and even reviews from peers and subordinates, are being enacted throughout the Fleet. 5 Clearly, the Navy is willing to fight to preserve the standards to which it holds its COs.
Sequestration has lately been hotly debated and often derided. Many probably have heard the term, aware it involves budget reductions, and possibly many know it could come to pass on Jan. 2, 2013. These potential spending reductions and simultaneous expiration of tax cuts have been collectively dubbed the “fiscal cliff,” receiving increased, post-election media attention as the President and lame-duck Congress negotiate a potential deal to change or avert both. But what does sequestration mean, and in context of the Department of Defense (DOD), what is its impact?
Sequestration could still be avoided (the President alluded to this in the Oct. 22 final campaign debate). Likewise, another outcome could be modification of the amount of budget reduction and/or the mechanisms by which it is conducted. However, worst-case sequestration under current provisions, coupled with previous budget reductions under the Budget Control Act (BCA) and compounded by other long-standing trends in defense spending, will be extraordinarily disruptive and damaging to the long-term defense program. Any change to sequestration requires passage of new legislation and presidential signature before Jan. 2, 2013 which very well may not happen. Therefore, assuming sequestration does trigger as planned in both timing and manner, let’s consider implementation impact on DOD.
Proceedings, December 2012
The Senkaku/Diaoyu Tai Islands dispute between China and Japan has ramped up in a heated season of discontent, but given the position China has backed itself into through official pronouncements and military showmanship, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States have the opportunity to resolve the dispute. They can do this by forcing China to recognize a transfer of administrative control of the islands to Taiwan, or rather, the Republic of China (ROC), the legally binding designee of World War II–era diplomatic agreements. This action would accomplish a number of things:
- Reward China and Taiwan for recent stabilization of cross-strait ties and improve economic relations, and place the two sides in common cause over a security/territory issue.
- Remove a perennial crisis point from the first island chain and the potential for its recurring destabilizing impact on Sino-Japanese relations.
- Keep the islands within the U.S. alliance structure and security umbrella.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes is chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee. The Virginia Republican has held several hearings on naval readiness in the current Congress. He will be part of a panel on the looming fiscal cliff— that could result in a 10 percent reduction in defense spending—at Defense Forum Washington hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute next week.
Rep. Forbes, you said Wednesday that you’re expecting to see sequestration in some form in January. Could you expand on that?
Obviously we are still hopeful to divert sequestration from taking place. The clock is ticking. We continue to believe that defense has already paid its share and shouldn’t be cut in such an arbitrary and drastic fashion. But it’s going to take an awful lot to keep from going over the cliff.
The first look at video of Chinese carrier operations recently released shows China has been paying attention to the way flight deck operations are safely conducted by the U.S. and other navies. Flight deck crew personnel jersey colors and hand signals are similar to international standards. There seem to be two sailors at every position, indicating that one of them is “under instruction.” There seems little doubt that the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is above the aircraft carrier learning curve, albeit in good weather and basic operations. Potential material problems lie in Liaoning’s very long construction period, which likely have resulted in significant structural problems, and with its pressure-fired steam propulsion system, which historically has been difficult to maintain and operate efficiently.
An undated photograph onboard the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning during a take-off and landing test. Xinhua News Agency Photo
China’s Carrier History
Beijing first acquired an aircraft carrier in 1985, when it bought the ex-Australian Melbourne. Engineers studied the World War II-designed ship in detail before it was scrapped. Next, during the 1990s came two former Soviet aircraft carriers—Minsk and Kiev—both purchased to serve as theme park attractions in China. Those ships were actually called “heavy aviation cruisers” by Moscow, so the first modern aircraft carrier to arrive in China was another ex-Soviet ship, the Varyag.
Proceedings, November 2012
To maintain their unique capabilities, the Sea Services must master the art of navigating budgets in the Age of Austerity.
Under the authority of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and without congressional action, automatic across-the-board cuts—“sequestration”—will occur in the Department of Defense budget in January 2013. 1 The likelihood and the consequences of this event are still uncertain, but projections by the Congressional Research Service suggest total cuts to the Defense budget in the vicinity of $500 billion over the next decade; similar cuts would be made in non-Defense spending. That this would be severe is not in doubt: Employment reductions from changes in equipment procurement in California alone are projected at nearly 126,000, with national changes in employment at more than 5.8 million. 2
Austerity budgets may prove to be the most challenging obstacle the Navy and Marine Corps have seen in a generation. Yet as painful as they may be, they must be faced. And successfully facing them begins with first developing an understanding of the current macroeconomic position of the United States, and ends with developing an effective budgetary strategy. Additionally, it will be critical to remember that Defense budgets do not exist in isolation. All actions and their costs must be gauged both against the entire federal budget as well as the larger U.S. macro-economy.
Cid Standifer is a freelance reporter, web designer and translator based in Arlington, Va. She has written for Military Times, Inside Washington Publishers and the Roswell Daily Record.
Proceedings, November 2012
A simmering dispute over some uninhabited islands south of Japan offers insight into the way domestic politics can drive foreign policy—perhaps all the way to war—in both China and Japan.
The islands in question, which the Chinese call the Diaoyus and the Japanese the Senkakus, have little or no intrinsic value, but the Chinese view is that enforcing a variety of claims to islands in the South China Sea is worthwhile, because it also reinforces the claim that the sea, which covers valuable resources, is Chinese territory. That other countries, such as Vietnam and Malaysia, also claim some of these islands has long made the South China Sea a potential flashpoint. In the current case, however, the driving force in both countries seems to be domestic.
Navy Diver assigned to Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit (MDSU) 2, Company 4, operates a suction dredge system during an underwater recovery operation in search of a missing service member on 6 October in the Mediterranean Sea. U.S. Navy
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has long used World War II as a way of rallying public support. For China, the key facts of that conflict were Japanese aggression followed by gross atrocities such as the rape of Nanking. The Communist Party claims that it, rather than the rival Nationalists, offered effective opposition to the Japanese. Whatever the reality, to many in China the important point is that the party has created a China that never again need fear such an attack. Japan has never effectively apologized for its aggression in the way that Germany did after World War II. As a consequence, few in China (or, for that matter, in Korea) have forgiven the Japanese. Some of the consequences may not be obvious to Westerners. For example, Taiwan, which Japan acquired in 1895, was treated rather well within the Japanese Empire: many Taiwanese have positive views of the Japanese. Some, perhaps many, mainland Chinese consider Taiwanese leaders tainted by such attitudes. It happens that in the dispute over the islands, the Taiwanese stand with their brethren on the mainland, the claim for the islands first having been made by the Nationalists (who took refuge in Taiwan when they were defeated on the mainland) in 1947.