Leaders will give the Navy anything but more ships


T he Navy has seen better days. In the 1980s, it reached nearly 600 ships and became an ever-present reminder of U.S. strength around the world. Today, we are just short of 300 vessels, a ceiling we have been unable to crack in 15 years. Under President Joe Biden’s direction, the fleet would shrink further.

Over the last six months, everyone in charge of the Navy has said they support the goal of building the fleet up to 355 ships. But that “support” was nowhere to be seen in the Biden budget, which called for fewer ships.

Our Navy’s leaders tell us that America is still the strongest force at sea, but the evidence shows we’re even weaker than implied by our total fleet size. The Navy has been involved in a string of disasters and blunders that raise real questions about its ability to maintain basic training and operational standards, let alone project power across the globe.

The crashes of the USS John McCain and USS Fitzgerald killed 17 sailors. Arson aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020 revealed a complete lack of readiness up and down the chain of command, and the $1.2 billion ship was destroyed. A submarine that took damage in the Pacific has to return all the way home for repairs since we long ago closed down repair facilities on Guam.

There is more than one major bribery scandal in the papers involving the Navy. Several Navy jets have crashed in Texas this year, along with a helicopter near San Diego that killed five. On top of all that, a government report says Navy sailors are tired all the time.

The Navy says its current problems can be overcome in two ways: by harnessing technology and through greater cooperation with our allies. But there are real reasons for doubt.

In October, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro pushed aside worries of a shrinking fleet by rattling off a list of high-tech catchphrases that he hoped can keep the U.S. level with China.

“Artificial intelligence. Cybersecurity. Unmanned platforms. Directed energy. Hypersonic weapons. Distributed power. These are the frontiers that will define your advantage against the People’s Republic of China, and it’s crucial that we field them expeditiously,” he said.

Less than a week later, one of the Pentagon’s top cybersecurity officials blew a hole in that plan by resigning over the Pentagon’s failure to make AI and cybersecurity a top priority. On these issues, he said, America has “no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years.”

Well, there’s always cooperation with allies, right? Del Toro and others have been making the rounds overseas to talk up a series of collaboration catchphrases that will somehow protect us.

“Globally, we will strengthen our relationships with like-minded maritime democracies, deepening interoperability in order to enable mutual action to address shared challenges,” Del Toro wrote.

Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday told Indian navy officials that cooperation would deter China. “Cooperation, when applied with naval power, promotes freedom and peace and prevents coercion, intimidation, and aggression,” he said on the Bay of Bengal.

No one is opposed to cooperation with allies. But when Taiwan faces a physical threat from China, will the assorted navies of the Indo-Pacific stand with us as we limp to the scene with our depleted force, led by a command that seems more interested in diversity and inclusion than fighting prowess? Or will China get whatever it wants?

The botched withdrawal from Afghanistan showed us the limits of placing faith in allies. We were told for years that country’s U.S.-trained security force was stronger than the Taliban, and it folded in days. Who knows what we really know about the will of our Asian partners to fight China?

A retired Navy sailor reminded me recently, “We owned the Pacific Ocean in World War II.” If we are to control our destiny there again amid China’s rise, we need more than kind words from allies, and we need more than hopeful technologies that either don’t exist or are so far from being implemented by the Pentagon that they might as well not exist.

America succeeds when it leads. America needs to get back into the business of putting ships in the water, and if our Navy leaders don’t stop making excuses for a smaller fleet, and don’t start fighting for a larger one, we have already lost.

Jason Beardsley ( @JasonRBeardsley ), a Green Beret and Navy veteran, represents veterans, active-duty sailors, and their families as executive director of the Association of the United States Navy.

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If you put all these stories together, Biden is setting this country up for a foreign takeover!


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