World Events Increase Demand for Naval Forces
Navy Answers All Bells But Questions QDR Limits
TOM PHILPOTT, a freelance journalist, has
spent more than 20 years covering the U.S. military as a reporter and
editor, including more than six years as editor of Navy Times. His articles
have appeared in the Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute, The Washingtonian
Magazine, and Readers Digest. In May 1994 he began syndicating a weekly
news column, Military Update, which now appears in 50 daily newspapers
that strive to keep military readers informed on national-security matters.
The final year of the 20th century saw five U.S. Navy aircraft carrier
battle groups and two amphibious readiness groups involved in combat
operations--a level of naval engagement not seen since the 1990 Persian
Gulf War. At the same time, the size of the fleet continued its inexorable
decline to the smallest U.S. fleet since 1931--when the Depression-era
Navy numbered 308 active ships.
If the average American failed to realize this, blame it not on apathy
but on warfare's changing nature--and a changing world. Modern warfare
at the end of the 20th century involved smart bombs and cruise missiles--most
of them dropped or launched by the world's only remaining superpower,
the United States, leading an alliance, NATO, that also has no peer.
Its dominance makes the United States a popular country to call in times
of international crisis. And if the United States wants to deliver a
swift response with bomb, missile, or an intimidating presence, forward-deployed
naval forces most often get the nod, as they did again last year.
Amid a fast-paced and demanding operational environment, three issues
seemed to occupy the attention of naval leaders and shape their near-term
agendas as 1999 drew to a close--worries about force structure and force
quality, and an emphasis on new technologies offering revolutionary warfare
Force Structure: Given the extraordinary pace of operations in the post-Cold
War era, ceilings on the numbers of submarines, air wings, and surface
combatants set by the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) have come
in for a blast of criticism from the Navy's top admirals.
Force Quality: Attracting and retaining the right quality and number
of personnel were top priorities for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1999,
and they were helped by Congress and, to a lesser extent, the Clinton
administration. Naval leaders are pressing for sustained increases in
pay and benefits and insisting that new ways be found to improve Sailors'
working conditions and reduce their time away from families.
Information Technology: The Navy made long strides in 1999 toward unlocking
the power of the information age to enhance the way it fights, communicates,
and sustains Sailor morale.
Answering the Bell
In late 1998, the Joint Chiefs of Staff pulled the readiness alarm,
warning Congress in blunt testimony that years of budgetary neglect and
an intensive operating tempo had brought the services to the edge of
crisis. Overall preparedness was in decline, and personnel quality was
falling, most sharply in the technology-heavy Navy and Air Force. In
response, tens of billions of dollars were added to the fiscal year 2000
defense budget to improve pay and future retirement plans, and to beef
up spending on critical readiness items to remedy spare-parts shortages
and repair backlogs.
Adm. Jay L. Johnson, chief of naval operations (CNO), called it a "pivotal
year" but warned that one robust budget will not end the Navy's
readiness challenge. Indeed, Johnson said, the Navy received only about
half of the added $6 billion per year sought by the CNO. Over the course
of the Future-Years Defense Plan, the annual increases sought by CNO
total $36 billion in additional funding.
"Overall, we haven't really turned a big corner yet," Johnson
said. "Investments in operating and maintenance (O&M) accounts
and manpower accounts are starting to give us more fidelity at the deck
plate but it takes so long." A year after the first infusion of
O&M dollars, Johnson said, he still finds it "very frustrating" to
visit ships and aircraft squadrons "and hear the same stories about
not having this or not having that ... but it's a work in progress."
The pace of operations did not slow in 1999, not with NATO's air campaign
over Kosovo and Serbia, continuing air patrols over Iraq, and rising
tensions in the Western Pacific. Rear Adm. Michael G. Mullen, director
of surface warfare for the Navy staff (OPNAV), noted that, over an 84-month
period ending in September 1999, naval forces participated in 80 contingencies--from
combat to peacekeeping, from noncombatant evacuations to disaster relief. "It
has become so routine that I worry about it being taken for granted," Mullen
said. If that happens, Sailors will not get the attention or equipment
Maj. Gen. Dennis T. Krupp, director of the expeditionary warfare division,
used a different yardstick. U.S. amphibious forces, he said, responded
to 44 crises in the final two decades of the Cold War, ending in 1989.
In the decade since--with a much smaller fleet--it has responded to more
than 100 crises.
"I don't see anything to change that landscape" of contingency
after contingency, said Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., deputy
CNO for resources, warfare requirements, and assessments. He enumerated
some of the lesser-known operations of the past year: maritime intercepts
in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea; peacekeeping in East Timor; disaster
relief following earthquakes in Turkey.
It is not just the pace of operations that has naval leaders desiring
more resources and more platforms. It is also the risk associated with
shuttling fleet units from one part of the world to another to cope with
the latest crisis or contingency--drawing down U.S. naval presence in
key geographic areas of vital interest to the United States. Peacekeeping
assignments also are often preceded or accompanied by hostilities--or
run the risk of transitioning to low-intensity warfare very quickly.
Every air wing that works up for deployment now "is getting ready
for combat," said Rear Adm. John B. Nathman, director of air warfare
"There is just a lot going on in an unstable world," said
Lautenbacher. "A lot of nationalistic, ethnic, and religious strife
is not contained by any mechanism other than world order under the United
Nations [U.N.] and led by the United States. Our involvement in all regions
seems to be critical to economic and political stability."
As 1999 came to a close, Navy leaders openly questioned whether fleet
levels set by the last QDR were realistic. Aircrews and aircraft may
perform flawlessly over Kosovo and Iraq, but they still feel the stress
of having only 10 air wings rotating for deployments on 12 aircraft carriers.
The Navy is "on a slow trend to bust operational tempo for air wings
because we don't have the right mix," said Nathman. "The 11th
air wing has got to be part of our story."
Demand for "missile shooters," both surface-combatant warships
and submarines, also stayed high during 1999, even as their numbers slid
too far toward the QDR goal of 305 surface ships and 50 attack submarines--down
from October 1999 levels of 327 and 57, respectively. The Navy's submarine-
and surface-launched Tomahawk cruise missile demonstrated remarkable
around-the-clock, all-weather accuracy during Operation Allied Force--including
numerous strikes against mobile Serb targets.
"Since we took those decisions in the last QDR, you see how busy
we are," said CNO Johnson. "Our sense is [that] we cannot get
any smaller and, indeed, we may need to get larger. I make no apologies
for that. That's what the world requirement for the Navy's utilization
has shown us the last three years." The days of assuming that the
Navy needs to get smaller are over, Johnson said. "As we put together
our next QDR effort, we have to be real honest with ourselves about the
glide path we're on in number of ships, force structure, and how we deploy
... and then ask ourselves very honestly, 'Do we have the numbers right?'"
Adm. Frank L. Bowman, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program,
believes that the Navy is "understructured across the board, but
particularly in attack submarines." A new Joint Staff report on
submarine requirements, due out a month ago, was said to recommend raising
the ceiling on attack submarines (SSNs) from 50 to a figure between 62
Meanwhile, the inventory of attack submarines fell by another eight
in 1999. That means, at any given time, only 12 to 13 attack submarines
are on patrol around the globe versus a requirement for 15 to 16, said
Rear Adm. Malcolm I. Fages, director of submarine warfare for OPNAV. "There
is a plethora of things we are unable to do across all mission areas,
including even the highest priorities, National Command Authority tasks,
and special operations. We just don't have enough assets."
U.S. submarine presence in the Mediterranean, for example, has fallen
from an average of four boats on patrol to a new average of 2.5. The
drop comes at a cost. The submarine force routinely turns down intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions it no longer can fulfill.
Exercises with allied forces are rare. "We anticipate essentially
eliminating our ability to participate in counterdrug and Arctic operations
very soon," said Fages.
But submarines continue to deliver a powerful punch. They fired 25 percent
of all cruises missiles launched against Iraqi and Serb targets last
year. Within the context of strike warfare, the submarine's contribution "has
increased significantly," Fages said.
Two primary initiatives are under study to increase efficiently the
number of attack submarines. The first would scuttle plans to retire
eight Los Angeles-class attack submarines and instead refuel them. For
an added cost of $300 million each per year, the Navy could extend the
life of eight submarines 12 to 15 more years. "That's a bargain,''
Fages said. The second initiative would convert four Trident ballistic-missile
submarines, due to leave the fleet, into guided-missile SSGNs. The new-model
submarines would carry seven cruise missiles in each of 22 of the current
24 Trident missile tubes. "The SSGN, configured for strike, would
have about as many Tomahawk missiles as are resident in the entire carrier
battle group today,'' said Fages. The SSGN, while not an attack submarine,
still could carry out other missions, including the delivery of special
The number of surface combatants stayed level in 1999 at 116. "I
certainly do not want to drop below that number," said Rear Adm.
Michael G. Mullen, OPNAV's director of surface warfare. In the short
term he is confident that the Navy will not. Mullen is more worried about
long-term shipbuilding. To maintain the fleet at 305 ships in 2005, the
Navy needs a build rate of eight to 10 ships per year. So far, budgets
do not accommodate that plan. Not until the middle of the decade will
the shipbuilding program rise to a level sufficient to sustain 300 ships,
said Lautenbacher. Congress views the matter with concern and has directed
the Department of Defense to submit a detailed shipbuilding report in
Despite thousands of combat missions over Kosovo and Iraq, naval aviation
had its safest year in history in 1999, with only nine major accidents
and seven fatalities through 1.16 million flying hours. That rate of
.77 accidents per 100,000 flying hours is the lowest ever recorded. By
contrast, in 1998, the Navy had 27 major mishaps for an accident rate
of 2.32 per 100,000 flying hours.
Nathman partially attributed this impressive achievement to "landmark" improvements
in the way pilots are trained. Pools of trainees waiting at various points
in the pipeline for their next phase to begin have been eliminated. "We
know it's important to sustain the flying part," he said. Total
training time has been cut 20 percent, he said, so that jet pilots now
complete training in two and a half years "street to fleet," and
are better prepared for the fleet squadron.
"We are still getting the air wings down too low in terms of readiness" after
squadrons return from deployment, Nathman said. "The slope to climb
back up to deployed readiness is a challenge." More budget dollars
have been pumped into maintenance and spare parts, but more time could
elapse before squadrons see the improvements.
Though acknowledging the seriousness of "platform and mission issues," particularly
with respect to attack submarines, Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig
said the most significant problem the Navy still faces is attracting
and keeping quality people. "We know we're not retaining at as high
a rate as we want," he said. "We know recruiting is a substantial
In 1999, the Navy completed its post-Cold War drawdown, eliminating
a final 9,000 Sailor billets to level off at 372,000, so it should begin
the first period of stability in the personnel arena in 25 years, said
Vice Adm. Daniel T. Oliver, chief of naval personnel until his recent
retirement. But leveling off after a drawdown means tough challenges
in other ways. For the first time in a decade, the Navy must recruit
a new Sailor for every Sailor who leaves--and 58,000 are expected to
leave this year.
The Navy met its recruiting goal of only 53,000 in FY 1999 after missing
the mark by 7,000 a year earlier. To succeed in 1999, the Navy increased
its recruiting force by 50 percent and launched a "Proven Performers" program
to double--to 10 percent--the number of non-high-school diploma graduates
who can enlist if they score well on the entrance exam and demonstrate
solid work records. To meet its goal, the Navy also placed a moratorium
on separating overweight Sailors or those who failed biennial physical-fitness
For the third year in a row, the Navy missed its retention targets.
The reenlistment rate sought for first-term Sailors was 32 percent. It
came in at about 28. Second- and third-term reenlistment rates for career
Sailors also were disappointing. Retention rates of mid-grade officers
fell 10 to 12 percentage points off target but were turning around at
the end of 1999--thanks to new retention bonuses across the warfare communities.
Danzig said he wants the Navy to move beyond "simply solving" personnel
challenges "to effecting a transformation in Sailors' lives." The
service needs "to stop thinking of Sailors as a relatively free
good"--the mindset from the era of conscription--and treat them
as "professionals whom we need to treasure and develop." Danzig
was leading an effort to arrange college credits for early Navy training,
to improve living spaces, and to reform the personnel system to treat
enlisted personnel more like officers in the way careers are laid out
Perhaps the most important factor affecting Sailor morale "is the
perception of the American people on the work of the military," said
Vice Adm. Robert J. Natter, deputy CNO for plans, policy, and operations. "That's
where [President Ronald] Reagan contributed even more than he did in
pay. He made the military, through the American people and Congress,
feel good about this profession. That was a huge factor and needs to
improve, in my judgment."
Shortage At Sea
The Navy ended FY 1999 still short 12,000 Sailors in seagoing billets.
But that gap was down from a shortfall in November 1998 of more than
19,000 vacant billets at sea. "You can't wipe that out in a year," said
Lautenbacher. "It's just too hard."
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group deployed in 1998 roughly
800 Sailors short. "The most recent carrier deployment [in the fall
of 1999] was only 150 short," said Lautenbacher. Ships between deployments
are still living with shortfalls. "But now we are able to make sure
deployed forces are manned just about right."
Just over 50 percent of U.S. ships were underway at any given time in
1999. More than 30 percent were on six-month deployments, up from "just
over 20 percent" deployed a decade ago. Another busy year, said
Mullen. "We must give [Sailors] some down time," he said. "They
joined the Navy to see the world. So we've got to get them on liberty
in good ports. ... If we do that, there is a tendency to hook them for
"We are right up against the stops in the personnel tempo, and
that is the biggest concern," said Natter. "They're racing
out, answering the bell, answering another bell and then coming home.
We are very concerned that we're stretching that wire to the point where
people don't want to do it anymore."
The pace of operations, though high, remains "controlled," said
CNO Johnson. No ship is exceeding six months at sea, "portal-to-portal." The
long hours Sailors work when they return to home port causes the greatest
stress, he added. A year ago, at Johnson's direction, commands were ordered
to reduce the workload during interdeployment training cycles by 25 percent. "We're
almost there," Johnson said. "We've gotten a lot of what you
might call the low-hanging fruit. Now it's a little more sporting. But
there's no magic in 25. I would like to go for more."
Last year the Navy intensified its communications revolution, installing
a voice, data, and video package called IT21--Information Technology
for the 21st Century--on four more aircraft carrier battle groups and
four amphibious ready groups. When combined with more aggressive use
of the Internet, battle force commanders down through deck-plate Sailors
are able to shrink the world through the new technology.
"The battle group commander now has the ability to process a lot
more information from the beach and pass it around the battle group [with]
the simultaneous ability to collaborate in real time, by voice or operational
e-mail, with commanders on other ships," said Rear Adm. Richard
W. Mayo, director of space, information warfare, and command and control
for OPNAV. "The idea of collaboration has really transformed operations
at sea." Operational commanders have been creating secure Internet
web pages to share mission plans and responsibilities, allowing every
participant to punch up what has occurred in real time to review mission
orders, details, and milestones.
"The commander controlling the web site can just update it whenever
new contact information or changes in mission are wanted," said
Mayo. "We've almost gotten out of the mode of having to do individual
radio phone calls or individual messages." The system mirrors capabilities
provided by the Internet--just a little more sophisticated and a great
deal more secure. "We brought that to sea with IT21," Mayo
said. Thirty years ago information reached the ship through high frequency
radio transmissions, perhaps even Morse code, at a maximum rate of about
100 words a minute. "Today, with IT21, we're up to transmission
speeds of 56 kilobytes, 128 kilobytes, and, on our large ships, 1 megabyte
of information per second," said Mayo. A ship's information pipeline,
once limited to the stream of Teletype, now flows with data, voice, and
Submarines, too, can take advantage of IT21, said Mayo, adding antennas
to increase data-rate collections from standard satellite technology. "Without
a doubt," said Mayo, "IT21 has been the hallmark achievement
of what we've been able to do for the fleet this year."
During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, air-tasking orders with targeting
data had to be delivered to aircraft carriers by helicopter from the
Desert Storm air command in Saudi Arabia. Satellite communication "pipes" were
too narrow. IT21 allows real-time transmission of a lot of data, including
strike orders. "We are completely out of the business of flying
the air-tasking order around by helicopters, and into the big leagues
in information throughput." On-scene commanders with the U.S. Sixth
Fleet praised the improved operational impact demonstrated during the
air war over Kosovo.
By the fall of 1999, a third of the fleet was upgraded with IT21 capability.
The system should be installed in the entire fleet, Mayo said, by October
2002. "Fleet commanders are enthralled with the capability," Mayo
One of the greatest difficulties with IT21 is the impact on operations
with allies. "It is a real problem because more and more maritime
naval activities overseas have a coalition component," said Mayo.
To promote allied involvement, the Navy has developed a "low-end
interoperability solution" for IT21, a compromise that does not
require U.S. allies to buy faster, more expensive, more sophisticated
systems. "The only gap that exists [with] our allies is a resource
gap," said Mayo. They need to make the commitment to buy the equipment.
Allies, Natter said, are not spending enough on defense in general, and
on command and control specifically.
The first IT21 installations on U.S. ships generated interoperability
problems that were manifested during critical at-sea work-ups and predeployment
training periods, Mayo said. By year's end, systems were being installed
on deploying ships earlier and faster so Sailors had time to train on
them before deployment. The Navy's systems commands and fleet staffs
followed through aggressively to implement a plan developed in 1998 to
improve configuration management and to identify and correct system problems
before ships went to sea.
The submarine force also is investing in IT21, with new investments
aimed at expanding bandwidth and high-data-rate capability. IT21 will
improve connectivity and enhance command, control, and communication,
officials said. A submarine soon will test a buoyant cable antenna that
will allow Internet protocol exchange between submarines operating at
speed and depth--without requiring the submarine to put an antenna out
of the water.
CEC and AEGIS
The Navy is one year into a two-year fix of software compatibility problems
between two critical systems: the Aegis radar and the Cooperative Engagement
Capability, or CEC. The problem forced USS Hue City and USS Vicksburg,
two Aegis Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers outfitted with CEC,
to miss a deployment in 1998. By late fall 1999, the Navy completed an
underway test of CEC and Aegis aboard the same two ships. The systems
had been integrated, and they worked.
"We have made spectacular strides in solving that kind of [software]
problem," said Mullen. The two cruisers still weren't battle-group-ready
by the fall, he said, but they were in "much better condition than
a year ago." CEC uses sensors from a variety of platforms to present
one unambiguous track for an incoming missile or enemy aircraft. It does
so by sharing sensor data in real time, calculating the best firing solution,
and determining which platform should fire. It has enormous implications
for Theater Ballistic-Missile Defense. "There is no other technology
that competes with it," said Mullen. "It's center stage to
the future of an integrated battlespace."
Regarding Ballistic-Missile Defense (BMD), the Navy expects to start
test-firing a missile-defense weapon within two to three years. Mullen
calls BMD the "most significant" mission the surface Navy--indeed
the whole Navy--will have in the future.
The Navy, he said, should have a robust missile-defense capability by
2007. "World events in 1999 conspired to teach us a lesson: that
human nature hasn't changed much," said Vice Adm. Oliver. "That's
the bad news. It also underscores why the United States needs a strong
Navy--a reflection on the strategic requirements of the world's greatest
"The good news is," said Oliver, "there's great demand
for our product."
THE CARRIER GAP
The Navy faces a keen obstacle in arguing that 12 aircraft carrier battle
groups are not enough: Despite what it believes is an undersized fleet,
it keeps accomplishing its global mission with its existing force structure.
"Time-sharing" carriers between critical regions of the world
can preclude immediate U.S. action--vividly demonstrated by the USS Saratoga's
1986 intercept of an airliner carrying the highjackers of the Achille
Lauro cruise ship--slow the U.S. response to a crisis, and raise the
risk of armed conflict--conflict that might have been prevented had U.S.
naval forces been on station. The warnings so far have had little impact
on Navy budgets, however, because the 12-carrier fleet "gets the
job done" with no apparent consequence to the United States or its
allies. Still, the warnings are getting louder and, in 1999, became more
Vice Adm. Daniel J. Murphy Jr., commander of the Mediterranean-based
U.S. Sixth Fleet, made one of the strongest cases for additional aircraft
carriers in recent memory in testimony last October before the Senate
and House Armed Services Committees. Murphy suggested that if a carrier
air wing had been available for Operation Allied Force last March, when
NATO began its air war against Serb aggression in Kosovo, Serb leaders
might have capitulated sooner, presumably saving lives, property, and
much hardship for the people of Yugoslavia--Serbs and Kosovars alike.
Instead, because of fresh provocation by Iraq, a carrier air wing did
not arrive off Kosovo until two weeks after the fight began--too late
to influence the Serbs' early diplomatic or military response to the
"Had the CINCEUR [Commander in Chief Europe] requirement for continuous
carrier presence been met, a Navy air wing would have been in the fight
from day one," Murphy testified. "Though we can only speculate
as to the difference naval air would have made in the first two weeks,
I believe it would have been substantial."
Murphy noted that Carrier Air Wing Eight aboard Theodore Roosevelt arrived
after hostilities commenced, and though it represented only 8 percent
of allied aircraft it still "accounted for 30 percent of all verified
kills against fielded forces in Kosovo." The carrier's air wing
commenced combat operations the day it arrived on station--ten days after
it departed its homeport of Norfolk, Va. The untimely gap in continuous
carrier coverage was unavoidable, Murphy said, given a force structure
limit of only 12 carrier battle groups set during the 1997 Quadrennial
Defense Review. The limit was imposed despite assessments by U.S. unified
combatant commanders documenting a requirement for 15.
Indeed, Murphy noted, carrier presence in the Mediterranean "has
dropped to a historic low." In 1998, the U.S. European Command had
a carrier under its control only 148 days, or 40 percent of the year.
That climbed in 1999 to a projected 60 percent but only because of the
Kosovo air war. "There are simply not enough carrier battle groups,
amphibious ready groups, and submarines to meet global tasking," Murphy
On 16 March, eight days before air strikes began against Serbian forces,
the carrier Enterprise was ordered to leave the Mediterranean for the
Persian Gulf to keep pressure on Iraq. "CINCEUR wanted to keep the
Enterprise but we simply did not have the numbers," Murphy said.
He also told Congress that the redeployment sent a mixed diplomatic signal
to Serbia at a critical stage in allied diplomacy. After spending the
final weeks of its deployment in the Gulf, Enterprise returned home in
time to stay below the six-month deployment cycle so critical to Sailor
The carrier USS Kitty Hawk had to be surged from Japan to fill the void
left in the Gulf by the Roosevelt's diversion to the Kosovo conflict.
This, in turn, left the U.S. Pacific Command without a carrier presence
near North Korea--where tensions with the unpredictable regime were rising. "Thus
far, by time-sharing and splitting apart [battle group and amphibious
ready group] assets, we have retained minimally sufficient numbers to
do the job," said Murphy. "In most cases, however, numbers
arrive just in time, leave a gap elsewhere, and place a strain on the
Adm. Frank "Skip" Bowman, director of naval nuclear propulsion,
said running a Navy with 12 aircraft carriers boils down to managing
risk. The danger is invisible to most Americans--but worrisome nonetheless.
When there was no carrier on patrol in the Pacific last spring, he said, "we
didn't go to war, North Korea didn't come across the 38th Parallel, and
China didn't invade Taiwan. So what did we lose?
"It's not necessarily all about bullets and governments falling," Bowman
continued. "It's about perception. What signal are we sending to
our allies, and does it make them less fervent in their support of our
values? Are they starting to look around for other partners because,
after all, we're not going to be there if the bell does ring? ... I would
argue there is some intangible harm done every time we drop our guard
like that." Other observers note that today's shrinking U.S. fleet
is not sized properly to fulfill new requirements associated with the
U.S. engagement strategy adopted by the Clinton administration in recent
Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet,
said aircraft carriers, thankfully, are "incredibly flexible and
responsive. We do have the ability to move [them] from theater to theater
to be in the right place at the right time. It's not always perfect--somebody's
important needs go unsatisfied for a period of time--but our strength
is our ability to respond." Fargo, who was deputy CNO for operations
when the Pacific region was left without a carrier last March, said the
gap was filled to some degree by relocating additional land-based aircraft
into that theater.
"As fleet commander," said Adm. Vernon Clark, commander in
chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, "I can't spend any time thinking
about having 15 carriers. Collectively we've got 12." And, from
his past perspective as the former director of operations for the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, there are compromises and alternatives to a carrier
in time of crisis--including moving additional Air Force or Marine Corps
squadrons into a theater or "surging" a carrier from its homeport
early. Though not optimal, such solutions can lower risk to an acceptable
level, he suggested. Given the increased time and effort now necessary
to return carrier battle groups to higher readiness levels during the
interdeployment training cycle, however, the feasibility or desirability
of surging carriers from their homeports early are questionable unless
no alternative exists.
The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) does not have good information
on how potential adversaries might respond during periods when carrier
battle groups are gapped in critical regions, said Earl E. Sheck, the
assistant director of ONI, because it still hasn't happened often or
for very long. "There are really so few cases where ... there isn't
a carrier within the theater for any length of time. We've looked at
some specific instances to see if somebody had taken advantage. But the
windows are so short and so infrequent [that] I'm not sure I could make
No, gapping a carrier's presence has not become routine, although it
did occur with increasing frequency during 1999. Indeed, if conditions
in the Balkans and the Persian Gulf calm down, the Navy could return
to a more normal cycle for carrier deployments. Accommodating maintenance
schedules and a reasonable rotation for crews, 12 carriers should allow
what planners call a 2.5 global presence. That equates to 1.0, or a carrier
on station full time in the Pacific; a .75 presence in the Central Command's
area of operational responsibility in Southwest Asia (i.e., a carrier
deployed at least nine months out of the year to the Persian Gulf or
Indian Ocean); and an identical .75 presence in the Mediterranean. Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein and Serbia's President Slobodan Milosevic combined
to destroy that deployment pattern in 1999.
Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs), which have fewer aircraft but an impressive
warfighting capability, can go far toward filling a void in the aircraft
carrier battle group's presence, said Maj. Gen. Dennis T. Krupp, director
of the Navy's office of expeditionary warfare. A review of recent contingency
actions, he said, shows that, "very rarely is it full-blown combat." More
and more, ARGs are being used separately to quell crises or provide humanitarian
"The carrier will respond to certain crises, and the ARG will be
alone and unafraid in other crises. You're not going to have the cover
of the carrier in most things we're going to do in the next century," Krupp
said. "In Iraq and Iran wars, you certainly will. But East Timor,
So are 12 carriers and 12 ARGs enough? "No," said Krupp. The
next QDR, he said, is "an opportune time for the Navy to say, 'If
we're the force of choice--because of what we do and where we are--then
maybe we need more.' Where does that 'more' come from? It comes at someone
else's expense. And those are tough decisions."
"We're making do with 12 carriers--barely," said Rear Adm.
Michael G. Mullen, the Navy's director of surface warfare--adding, with
obvious pride, that the fleet's execution of missions in recent years "has
"It's something we manage and, if I do say so myself, I believe
we manage it quite well," said Adm. Jay L. Johnson, chief of naval
operations. "We've had a lot of experience with it now--the Navy,
the Joint Staff, the unified CINCs [commanders in chief]--everybody working
Informed observers continue to worry about the impact the Navy's prolonged
high operational tempo will have on its Sailors' morale. But, ironically,
their impressive performance of combat operations and execution of multiple
global missions during 1999 could remain the Achilles' heel of any renewed
Navy push for a 13th aircraft carrier. TP