The Navy faces reality

The Navy's leadership is acknowledging its fleet will, at best, not grow in the near-term.

This is not how the Navy was supposed to be.

Its littoral combat ship program was going to be as fecund as the shad. Its advanced large new surface combatants would be … well they’d be out there somewhere, but you wouldn’t see them because they could stand well over the horizon. It was going to be a service custom-built to influence events ashore From The Sea… rather than one repurposed from its Cold War mission of a high-seas Super Jutland against the Soviets.

To the outside world, this vision has been in tatters for years, but the Navy’s leadership clung to it desperately. It kept insisting it could reach its goal of 313 ships, and then even more than that, as a “floor” for the size of a future fleet. “Quantity has a capability all its own. It’s a big ocean out there. We need the ships yesterday.” The talking points were branded onto Big Navy’s institutional brain, and they kept reappearing despite all the LCS delays, the service’s own projected ship and submarine shortfalls, and the obvious budget storm clouds overhead. Until now.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp that, yeah, looks like the Navy’s going to stay the same size — at best — for the next five years, Otto Kreisher writes for AOL Defense. Next week’s budget is expected to do away with some 19 ships over the coming years, by one estimate, and although new hulls will continue entering the fleet, its best hope is to break even. Simple numbers can be deceptive, too: The Navy’s LCSes, for example, may not do an actual deployment until 2017 or later, so the pressure on the legacy fleet will stay high even as they enter service.

The Navy will always accomplish its missions, but with a shrinking and aging fleet, crews and gear bear the extra burden. The USS Bataan’s amphibious ready group, which included the amphibious transports USS Mesa Verde and USS Whidbey Island and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, had to spend 10 and half months deployed. Mechanical problems meant the amphibious assault ship USS Essex could not participate in an exercise last month out in the Western Pacific. The submarine force is gritting its teeth for seven-month deployments.

Bottom line: A Navy that does not grow and continues to operate at a high tempo is an engine running out of oil. It may get you there, but the longer you run it, the more damage it takes, until you run the risk of not being able to repair it anymore. ┬áThe service’s leadership may have known this privately all along, but Greenert’s acknowledgment seems to mean it’s willing to start doing so publicly.