Ahead for the New Administration
When Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark testified before the House
and Senate Armed Services Committees on 27 September 2000 he was characteristically
straightforward in discussing both the strengths and weaknesses of today's
First, the strengths: "Our forward-deployed forces ... are ready
to respond to all taskings," he said in his report on The Status
of the Navy. The Navy is making progress in both recruiting and retention,
he continued, and has reduced but not eliminated many of the personnel
shortfalls that existed just one year earlier. There also has been "some
improvement" in the readiness of nondeployed forces and in reducing
the shortage of spare parts. Thanks to the combined efforts of Congress
and the Clinton administration, moreover, there have been "great
improvements in the quality of life of our Sailors."
There also are a number of major concerns, however, Clark said, including
a very high tempo of operations--"One-third of our fleet is deployed
on average every day." However, there are fewer ships in the Navy
than there were just 10 years ago. This means that theater commanders
"have fewer assets to cover commitments," and that translates
into "more underway time per unit." The end result, Clark continued,
is "additional wear and tear on our ships and aircraft" and
higher maintenance requirements.
The aging of the Navy's aviation force--"now the oldest it has
ever been in its history"--is another particularly difficult problem,
Clark said, as are various "shortfalls in maintenance, spare parts,
and support equipment ... [that] are impacting the training readiness
of nondeployed [Navy] forces." Training readiness also has been adversely
affected, the CNO said, by political restrictions that have severely limited,
for the foreseeable future, use of the unique combined-arms live-fire
training range at Vieques Island in Puerto Rico.
"Urban sprawl, the obligations of environmental compliance on land
and at sea, and concerns over noise and airspace" have combined,
Clark also said, to limit the use of other training areas--on San Clemente
Island off the coast of California, for example. "We will need the
support of Congress to ensure the availability of those ranges in the
future," he said.
The CNO's principal concern, though, Clark made clear, is not current
readiness, but future readiness--which will be determined primarily by
the funding allocated today for procurement of the ships, aircraft, weapons,
and electronics and avionics systems that will enter the fleet over the
next several years. "Sustained future naval readiness," he told
the two committees, "begins with a recapitalization program that
delivers the right number of technologically superior platforms and systems.
Current DOD [strategy] ... requires an 8 to 10 ships-per-year build rate
to sustain a QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review--the 1997 QDR postulated
a minimum fleet of 305 ships] force. The actual number of ships in our
[current and long-term budget] plan is not sufficient to meet this need.
The steady erosion of the service life of our platforms and equipment
and the lack of a viable recoup plan will eventually lead to a point where
we will be unable to sustain our operational commitments [emphasis added]."
As it has throughout its storied 225-year history, the Marine Corps continued
the march without missing a beat during Gen. James L. Jones's first full
year as commandant. The Corps also continued to live up to its reputation
as the finest fighting force in the world, and was in position at all
times to carry out the mandate given to it by Congress: "To be the
most ready when the nation is least ready."
Like all of its sister services, though, the Marine Corps was increasingly
hard-pressed to carry out all of its current commitments while at the
same time preparing to fight the asymmetric wars of the future. The Marine
Corps provides more fighting capability per dollar than perhaps any other
combat force in the world--and that capability continues to improve as
the Corps modernizes its weapons inventory, hones the skills of the legendary
"individual Marine," and stands watch in the most likely trouble
spots overseas as this nation's--and the entire world's--first line of
The Marine Corps is the leanest of all the armed forces. Of the 172,500
Marines now on active duty, more than 114,000 are in the operating forces,
and about 30,500 of that total are forward-deployed overseas. During the
past 18 months Marines participated in U.S./coalition operations in the
Balkans, East Timor, and the Persian Gulf. They trained in bilateral or
multinational exercises in Greece, Turkey, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and
with various allies throughout the Pacific. They served in humanitarian-relief
missions in Turkey as well as in Central and South America. At home, they
participated in counternarcotics missions along the U.S. borders and in
fire-fighting operations in Montana.
In his testimony during the 27 September readiness hearings, Gen. Jones
pointed out the key to the Marine Corps' continuing success: "We
train for the worst-case scenario--high-intensity conflict--and as a result
we are prepared for the full spectrum of our missions." One of the
best examples of the Corps' forward thinking was the creation--under Gen.
Charles C. Krulak, Jones's predecessor as commandant--of the Chemical/Biological
Incident Response Force (CBIRF), which is now recognized as a major national
asset and was recently moved to Indian Head, Md., where it is in better
position to respond to any terrorist incident in or near Washington, D.C.
Another Marine success story has been the performance of the Marine
security guard (MSG) detachments at U.S. embassies around the world. The
Marine security guards posted to the American embassies in Dar Es Salaam,
Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, carried out their duties in the Corps' typical
"above and beyond" manner when both embassies were bombed, minutes
apart, on 6 August 1998. The inevitable result was a State Department
request for enough Marines (300 or more, at the minimum) to guard 37 more
U.S. diplomatic posts overseas.
Synergistically complementing the MSG detachments are the Corps' 50-man
FAST (Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team) platoons, also much in demand
not only by the State Department but also by the regional CINCs (commanders
The Marine Corps has paid a high price, though, for its forward thinking
and its adherence to the "most ready" mandate. To maintain readiness
under the budget limits imposed, Jones testified, the Corps has had to
reduce procurement virtually across the board and is now at the point
"where failure to rectify modernization shortfalls can no longer
be ignored." A sustained period of increased funding is required,
he told the committees, " ... to ensure the readiness of your Corps
All of the Marine Corps' most urgent acquisition priorities fall into
the "replacement" category--i.e., the aircraft, ground equipment,
and weapon systems needed to upgrade the aging current inventory with
newer and better systems and platforms. The Advanced Amphibious Assault
Vehicle (AAAV), which will replace the ancient AAV7A1 that first entered
the inventory in the late 1960s, is a prime example. So are the MV-22
Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the STOVL (short takeoff/vertical landing)
version of the Joint Strike Fighter, both of which will replace workhorse
aircraft that also have been too long in the inventory and are becoming
increasingly unsafe to fly. The tragic Osprey accident on 11 December
that killed four Marines was a major setback for the program that requires
a full investigation--which was immediately ordered--but it does not invalidate
the Marine Corps' need for faster and more versatile advanced-technology
medium-transport aircraft to replace the Corps' aging CH-46E and CH-53D
It can be taken for granted that, as it has always done in the past,
the Marine Corps will ensure that its new systems and platforms will be
as safe, as reliable, and as combat-capable as they possibly can be before
going into full production. Jones's principal concern, therefore, is not
the assured high quality of the replacement systems but the pace at which
they will enter the active inventory. The key here is not IOC (initial
operational capability, obviously a major milestone) but FOC (full operational
capability). The AAAV does not reach FOC until 2013, and the Osprey will
not be fully fielded until a year after that. FOC for the Joint Strike
Fighter, which cost-effectively replaces both the AV-8B Harrier jumpjet
and the Corps' F/A-18 Hornets, is almost a full decade later.
It is most unlikely that any would-be adversary will wait that long.
Which is why Jones told the two armed services committees that "Acceleration
of the pace of modernization is absolutely essential" to the Corps'
future readiness "and to the timely improvement of our capabilities."
If there is any other government entity that comes close to the Marine
Corps in cost-effectiveness it is the Coast Guard, which is not only the
world's premier lifesaving service but also one of America's most effective
law-enforcement agencies, the principal protector of the marine environment,
a facilitator of commerce, and at all times a uniquely valuable national-defense
The Coast Guard also is perhaps the most overworked agency of government.
Its missions increase almost annually in both scope and magnitude--while
its workforce remains stable and its physical assets age. The Coast Guard's
cutters, aircraft, electronics and avionics systems, and shore facilities
are obsolescent and in urgent need of replacement. They have been worked
far too hard for far too long, and are now simply wearing out. The Coast
Guard's people are young, among the finest young men and women this nation
produces, but they also are overworked and overcommitted. They certainly
do not need replacement, but they do need help--from the new Congress
and the new administration, and from the American people as a whole.
The worst aspect of the Coast Guard's current in extremis situation is
that matters will almost inevitably get worse before any meaningful relief
can be provided. The volume of U.S. seaborne trade is expected to double
and perhaps triple in the next 20 years or so. That means an exponential
increase in the Coast Guard's workload. Hazardous spills also are likely
to increase, as are the number of recreational boaters--and that translates
into more search-and-rescue missions. The interdiction of illegal drugs
and illegal migrants is another growth area for the multimission service.
With fewer Navy ships available, and more of them deployed overseas, the
Coast Guard's national-defense responsibilities also have increased significantly.
The service's most daunting future mission, though, might be port security.
America's port infrastructure, coastal areas, and inland waterways are
all tempting targets for international terrorists and would be impossible
to defend all at the same time.
There is one glimmer of hope on the horizon--the innovative Deepwater
program advocated by Coast Guard Commandant Adm. James M. Loy and his
team. The Deepwater concept envisions replacing and/or upgrading the Coast
Guard's entire physical inventory--cutters, aircraft, shore facilities,
and ship and aircraft systems--on an incremental basis over the next 20
years. This integrated long-term approach not only makes common sense
in terms of future as well as current operations but would also be the
most cost-effective way to keep the Coast Guard Semper Paratus (Always
Ready) for the foreseeable future.
Let there be no doubt about it: If the Coast Guard is unable for any
reason to carry out any of its missions, the American people and the U.S.
marine environment both suffer. That fact alone should make Deepwater
a high priority for a new administration and new Congress seeking to reach
common ground as early as possible on as many issues as possible.
Another priority on which President-elect Bush and Congress should reach
early agreement is the rebuilding of the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine--which
was not an election-year issue between the two parties, but should have
been--for sound economic as well as military reasons.
The military rationale is particularly straightforward: In any overseas
conflict involving U.S. forces more than 95 percent of the equipment and
supplies--including fuel, ammunition, and other consumables--required
by American forces in-theater must be transported by sea. History has
shown that U.S.-flag ships, manned by American seafarers, are the only
reliable source of strategic sealift in such times of crisis. Reliance
on foreign-flag ships--most of them manned by Third World nationals of
uncertain allegiance--is not only politically and economically imprudent
but might be militarily disastrous as well.
The economic arguments for rebuilding the U.S.-flag fleet--and, not incidentally,
the U.S. port infrastructure at the same time--should be just as obvious,
and would start with this alarming fact: American ships now carry less
than three percent of the nation's two-way seaborne cargo, exports as
well as imports.
That would be a shameful admission for any maritime nation. For the largest
trading nation in all world history it is no less than a national disgrace.
A sustained bipartisan program to rebuild the U.S.-flag fleet would: (1)
ensure the immediate availability of the sealift ships needed by U.S.
forces in time of war or other national emergency; (2) significantly increase
the pool of trained American seafarers required to man those ships; (3)
help preserve the vital U.S. defense industrial base, particularly the
shipbuilding sector; (4) create hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the
shipbuilding and ship-operating industries; (5) generate additional billions
of dollars in tax revenues for America's federal, state, and municipal
treasuries; and (6) reduce the current deficit in the U.S. balance of
The only seemingly plausible argument against such a program is an economic
one: It costs more to build ships in U.S. yards, and American seafarers
earn higher wages than Third World crews. But that argument is spurious.
Studies have shown that the higher tax revenues generated by building
and shipping American would more than offset the higher building and operating
Because of the projected doubling or tripling in the overall volume of
U.S. trade over the next quarter of a century there will probably never
be a better time, economically as well as politically, to develop and
implement a long-term program to expand and modernize the U.S. port infrastructure
and rebuild the U.S.-flag fleet. Such a bipartisan program--similar in
scope, magnitude, and imagination to the hugely successful Interstate
highway program--would benefit all Americans for many years to come.
The new Congress and the nation's next commander in chief will have numerous
demands on their time and major conflicting priorities. But, as the preceding
sea-service summaries suggest, one of their top priorities must be a rebuilding
of America's armed forces and the overall U.S. defense infrastructure.
Fortunately, the 2000 presidential election debates showed that the American
people still favor a strong U.S. national defense program and are willing
to pay the price necessary not only to protect this nation's economic
and political interests against enemies both foreign and domestic but
also to help preserve global peace and stability.
One of the most intractable problems that must be dealt with--preferably
on a multinational basis, but unilaterally if necessary--is the still
growing threat posed by international terrorism, tragically thrust into
prominence once again by the 12 October attack on the USS Cole. Like the
1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, the attack on the
Cole showed that forward-deployed U.S. naval and military personnel are
among the most likely targets for international terrorists, particularly
in any area of potential conflict. But the World Trade Center and Oklahoma
City bombings showed that U.S. cities also are at risk in the brave new
world of the 21st century.
The proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass
destruction (WMDs)--and of the means to deliver such weapons--has exponentially
increased the power not only of rogue nations but also of relatively small
terrorist groups. Counterterrorism experts say, almost unanimously, that
the possibility of a terrorist organization gaining possession of one
or more WMDs is now a matter of "not if, but when."
That same grim assessment might well be true of the even more cataclysmic
threat posed by the growing number of nations building, or buying, both
intermediate-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles (IRBMs and
ICBMs, respectively). North Korea and the People's Republic of China (PRC)
are the most obvious current examples. North Korea's Kim Jong-Il has been
surprisingly docile of late, meeting last June with South Korean President
Kim Dae Jung and last October with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
curbing his anti-American rhetoric, and in general behaving like a responsible
world statesman. It should be remembered, though, that he has much to
gain by extending the olive branch--billions of dollars in economic aid
of various types, for example, from South Korea, Japan, and United States--and
almost nothing to lose. Only time will tell--a considerable length of
time, in all likelihood--if the current rapprochement is illusory or might
lead to eventual unification of the two Koreas and a true era of lasting
peace on the long-divided peninsula.
Even in a worst-case scenario--a second Korean War, for example--North
Korea today represents no more than a regional threat and falls into the
category of problems that might be exceedingly difficult but are at least
"manageable." The same is not true, though, of the People's
Republic of China, which today poses probably the most dangerous as well
as least manageable military threat the United States faces anywhere in
the world. Over the past 10 years the PRC has been steadily upgrading
the quality and combat capabilities of all of its armed services. It has
engaged in military espionage against the United States. It has purchased
Sovremenny-class destroyers and Kilo-class submarines from Russia, as
well as a number of air-superiority fighters, aerial-refueling tankers,
and other aircraft. It has increased the size of its ICBM force and is
reportedly arming some of its ICBMs with multiple independently targetable
Furthermore, as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Floyd Spence
pointed out last year in a National Security Report titled China in the
Ascendancy, Beijing has become "one of the most serious proliferators
of WMDs and related technologies to nations such as Iran and Pakistan."
What is particularly ominous is China's continued angry rhetoric on
the Taiwan issue. In 1996, Chinese leaders ordered military exercises
in the waters around Taiwan that, Spence pointed out, "included the
firing of several ballistic missiles on trajectories that bracketed the
island and landed in nearby shipping lanes." Last year, China's leaders
said, in a White Paper on "The One-China Principle," that if
Taiwan "authorities" do not agree by 2007 on "the peaceful
settlement of cross-Strait reunification through negotiations, the Chinese
government will ... be forced to adopt all drastic measures [available
to it] ... including the use of force."
China already has deployed hundreds of relatively short-range ballistic
missiles within easy striking distance of Taiwan. China has literally
thousands of land-based combat aircraft of varying quality and capabilities
that also could be used against Taiwan. The deployment of two U.S. Navy
carrier battle groups into the South China Sea at the time of the 1996
missile "exercises" proved to be a restraining influence on
Beijing. Since then, though, the U.S./PRC balance of naval power in the
region has tilted more in favor of China, which has been building up its
power-projection capabilities at the same time the United States has been
cutting its force structure.
The "X" factor, not always taken into account in the Pentagon's
contingency planning: In any future confrontation between the United States
and China the PRC would need only local, not global, naval/military superiority--in
the narrow 110-mile band of water called the Taiwan Strait. There is no
guarantee that U.S. forces would prevail in such a scenario.
Also lurking in the wings is Russia, no longer an all-purpose military
superpower but still very much a nuclear superpower--and increasingly
unstable, both politically and economically. U.S. and European economic
aid has helped some, but much of that aid has been siphoned off to enrich
corrupt political and military leaders with overseas bank accounts. The
Russian people are both noble and long-suffering, but several times in
the last century finally said "Enough!" Serious scholars say
the possibility of another Russian revolution cannot be dismissed out
of hand, and that could easily lead to the rise of another dictator or
There are numerous other national-security and diplomatic challenges
facing President-elect Bush and his key national-security advisers. How
to cope with the sudden escalation of violence in the Middle East, for
example. The always precarious relationship between Israel and its Arab
neighbors went from bad to worse in the last few months of the year, and
could easily deteriorate further. Elsewhere in the Mideast, Saddam Hussein
has toned down his rhetoric, but already has demonstrated that he is willing
to use Iraq's principal revenue resource, oil, to gain new friends and
punish his enemies.
East Timor and Rwanda, Haiti and Somalia, Bosnia and Kosovo: America's
armed forces have deployed to all of them in recent years on peacekeeping
and/or humanitarian missions. Those and other deployments, as important
as they were and as well-intentioned as they were, caused additional wear
and tear on people as well as platforms. The new president and his advisers
will have to decide whether such missions are absolutely essential to
U.S. political and economic interests. The decision will not be an easy
one--but it must be made.
It is reassuring that, during last year's presidential-election debates,
President-elect Bush and Vice President Al Gore both recommended sustained
increases in defense spending over the next 10 years. Both of them are
to be commended not only for making national defense a top priority, but
also for creating the foundation for a truly bipartisan approach to national
security in the first decade of the 21st century.
President-elect Bush is to be further commended for selecting former
Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his vice president, Gen. Colin Powell
as his Secretary of State, and Condoleezza Rice, an expert on Russian
affairs, as his national security adviser. That highly experienced triumvirate
ensures that any national-security issues that develop in the foreseeable
future will be handled both expeditiously and competently. The fact that
the president's White House chief of staff will be Andrew Card, a former
secretary of Transportation--and, therefore, knowledgeable in Coast Guard
and maritime affairs--is an unforeseen bonus.
The president-elect and his team will nonetheless need the support, and
the prayers, of all Americans if they are to take this nation safely through
the rocks and shoals--the very difficult challenges already known and
the perhaps even greater challenges as yet unforeseen--of the next four
years. As national president of the Navy League of the United States,
I am proud and honored to offer them that support on behalf of all of
our members, particularly on matters of national defense, with special
focus on our sea services.
The Navy League was formed in 1902 with the support of another strong
president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was dedicated to maintaining a powerful
U.S. defense posture and to the building of a fleet worthy of a true world
power. As the Navy League prepares this year for the centennial of our
birth, we must dedicate ourselves anew to our original and still primary
educational mission: to educate our fellow citizens and, through them,
the media and the executive and legislative branches of government, about
the continuing need for a strong presence at sea, both naval and commercial,
to defend and protect America's economic and political interests throughout
the world and to ensure continued prosperity at home.