Straight Talk About Our Shrinking Navy

Its campaign season, again, and some candidates are trying to score some cheap points by talking about how the Navy is the smallest it has been since World War I, we can’t fulfil our national defense obligations and that we need to build more warships. When it comes to the size of the fleet, there are a lot of factors that matter.

“[Number of ships is] pretty irrelevant. We also have fewer telegraph machines than we did in World War I and we seem to be doing fine without that,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in response to statements about the size of the fleet. “Look at the capability. Look at the missions that we do.”

Glib and condescending answers don’t really help, though. In 1916, the United States was just getting used to being on the world stage. It was only 18 years after the Spanish-American War and the Navy was still working out what was necessary for the fleet, at that time.

In addition to not having telegraphs, there are also no more dreadnaughts and active battleships. Our enemies have changed in the last one hundred years and their capabilities have nearly equaled and, in some cases, surpass our own.

Although, technically, all three points are true, there is a lot of information that just isn’t there.

The current number of ships in the Fleet is smaller than it has been since 1916.

Yes, that is true, it is also true that some ships don’t get counted because of the role they fill in the fleet. The US Navy currently operates two hospital ships, for example, that are not included in fleet totals. That makes sense, they aren’t combatants, but it also operates nine ships of the Cyclone-class. Although these ships are small combatants – with a crew of 30 they are armed 25mm guns and Griffin missiles – and are forward deployed in the Persian Gulf, they are not counted as combatant ships.

US ShipThe Navy does not have enough ships to meet its national defense needs.

You have to define national defense for this one. We have more aircraft carriers than the rest of the world combined. We have more aircraft carriers currently at sea than any other country in the world. But, we are also the last remaining world-wide navy in existence. No other country in the world can project power like the United States. Period. Having one aircraft carrier won’t do it. Having a hundred submarines won’t do it. Naval power projection comes when you show up off the coast of another country with enough firepower to destroy that nation’s ability to wage war. No other country in the world has that capability. As defensive weapons become more lethal, the size and capabilities of an attacking fleet will have to increase. If our country continues in this role as the world’s policeman, the Navy’s size will have to increase, as well.

We need to build more warships.

Ships don’t just appear out of thin air. From the end of World War II until the early 1980s, the U.S. Navy had a huge reserve of ships to call on if hulls were needed. Everything from submarines, to battleships and aircraft carriers were laid up in reserve fleets. The Essex-class carriers of World War II were reactivated as Amphibious ships for helicopter operations and the Iowa-class battleships were reactivated numerous times to meet specific needs during crisis. The vast majority of those ships are now gone. Scrapped and turned into razor blades.

It can take 10 to 15 years to build the Ford-class carriers. Even smaller destroyers take years to build, you cannot wave your hand and have ships appear. Ships that have been laid down or are being constructed will become part of the fleet when they are finished. Determining the needs of the Navy years down the road, is where the difficulty lies.

Political sound bites and glib responses are not the answer to this problem. Determining the needs of the fleet 10 to 15 years before they become critical is the answer. Unfortunately, the last three presidential administrations – and their respective congresses – have done little but trot out slogans and sarcastic rejoinders.

Determining what our obligations are, and the best way to meet them, is one of the most important questions of our time.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Matt Towns
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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
Matt Towns
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