No Substitute for A Strong Navy

by Cynthia L. Brown, president, American Shipbuilding Association

The President is proposing a much needed, and long overdue increase of $49 billion in his fiscal year 2003 budget for National Defense. What is astonishing is that this larger budget proposes slashing the Navy's shipbuilding procurement account below that recommended by the previous Administration.

Why is this astonishing? If it were not for ships of the Navy and Marine Corps, the U.S. would not have been able to defend America from additional attacks from the air and sea, or retaliate in Afghanistan after the September 11 attack on New York and Washington, D.C.

Long before the terrorist attacks, the commanders-in-chief (CINCs) of the Navy and Marine Corps were on record with Congress and the White House that they could not continue to adequately defend America with fewer than 360 ships comprised of 15 aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBG) and 15 amphibious ready groups (ARG). These CINCs were on record that the fleet was stretched perilously thin with their depleted force of 315 ships of 12 CVBGs and 12 ARGs. Numerous horror stories were told about having to divert battle ships from critical strategic regions around the world in need of a consistent American presence in order to respond to wars and conflicts in Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, the Straits of Taiwan, etc. They recounted the problems of a 300 percent increase in the operating tempo of the fleet following the Cold War, and the difficulty in responding to these high operating tempos with only half the size of their Cold War fleet.

Naval operations of the 1990's entailed keeping ships on station past their intended six-month deployment cycles, skyrocketing maintenance costs on overworked ships, not being able to provide optimum training to Sailors and Marines. These same Sailors and Marines are being denied their promised leave time in between ship deployments because of too few ships to efficiently, and effectively execute America's national security strategy. In short — a fleet stretched perilously thin.

These alarm bells were being sounded after a 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a DOD study to determine required force structure, determined that the Nation could manage the risks with a 305-ship Navy. Despite the pleas of warfighters to the contrary, and an acknowledgement of the need for greater expeditionary forces and increased access to bases in the Pacific, this force structure was again recommended as adequate in the 2001 QDR conducted under the Bush Administration.

What are naval forces? They are expeditionary, forward-deployed bases.

What is so alarming is that DOD budgets will sink America's Navy to a fleet of only 180 ships, or fewer, if shipbuilding budgets are not dramatically increased immediately and sustained for years to come. A minimum 305-ship Navy requires an annual procurement of 10 ships. In any year that 10 ships are not bought, more than 10 ships must be ordered to make up for the deficit in ship procurement in a previous year. To sustain the force level of the 2001 QDR, 10 ships of the following types must be bought each year: • One Aircraft Carrier every four years; • Two SSN-774 Class Submarines; • Four DDG-51 Class Surface Combatants; One LHD Class Amphibious ship every three years; • Two LPD Class Amphibious ships; • More than two combat logistics force and other ships.

For the past 10 years, however, the Defense Department has been buying only six ships a year, on average.

This means that the Nation's naval fleet is already 42 ships short of sustaining a 300-ship fleet. Said another way, America's Navy is on course to drop to 258 ships as older ships are retired.

The President's fiscal year 2003 budget proposes funding of only $6.1 billion for five ships, which will drop the fleet to 253. By 2023, the fleet will number 180 if procurement rates are not dramatically increased.

Combine these startling force structure statistics with the fact that it takes four to seven years to build each of these warships, and every American with elementary math capability can understand why the Nation can no longer delay rebuilding America's naval fleet.

The American Shipbuilding Association calls upon every American citizen and company to join its effort in urging Congress to increase the Navy's shipbuilding budget by $3.3 billion in fiscal year 2003. This funding increase will add one DDG-51 Class destroyer in 2003 and provide advance procurement for a third ship in 2004; Procure longlead SSN-774 Class submarine systems to enable the Navy to reach its goal of two submarines per year beginning in 2005; Add one LPD-17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship in 2003; and make a down payment on the LHD-9 Large Deck Amphibious Assault Ship.

While this proposed amendment to the President's 2003 budget is still well below what is necessary to restore American Sea Power capability, it is an important and essential first step in a long and essential investment process.

In closing, I ask all of your readers to consider where the Nation would have been on September 11 if not for naval ships?

In response to the terrorist attacks on the U.S., an aircraft carrier battle group, consisting of an aircraft carrier and numerous destroyers, submarines, cruisers and logistic supply ships, was immediately deployed to the east and west coasts to defend America from additional attacks via the air and sea. Homeland defense begins with ships.

The U.S. would not have been able to retaliate against the attack of 9/11 in land-locked Afghanistan without ships, because no foreign government in the region granted the United States land base rights from which to launch offensive strikes. The nearest land base from which the U.S. could operate was 3,000 miles away in Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. The first phase of the war was waged from more than 60 ships. Long-range missiles were fired on Afghan targets from submarines and surface ships. In less than a four-month period, more than 4.000 aircraft sorties were flown off the decks of three aircraft carriers. A fourth aircraft carrier along with submarines and amphibious ships were used to deploy Marines and Special Operations Forces of all services into Afghanistan.

Ships of the Navy and Marine Corps are mobile, self-sustained, lethal bases at sea that can operate around the globe without the permission of any foreign government.

What if China, as a hypothetical, had attacked the West Coast of the United States in October of 2001? America would not have been able to defend itself on two fronts with the depleted size of its Navy today.

This reality is being completely ignored in the President's fiscal year 2003 defense budget. Congress must act now to rebuild America's sea power.

Other stories from April 2002 issue


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First published in 1881 Maritime Reporter is the world's largest audited circulation publication serving the global maritime industry.