“Now Hear This” is the classic alert in the Navy that something important for all hands is about to be announced. This article is a “now hear this!” for every American.
Our Navy is “in extremis”, a nautical expression that indicates imminent danger. The extremis condition applies to the entire United States Navy and thus to the nation as we are fundamentally a maritime nation.
Virtually everyone agrees that the biggest threat to the US today and our way of life is from China. As far back as 2000 Congress to its credit recognized that China was going to be a threat and created the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The Commission produces an annual comprehensive report typically running 600+ pages on every aspect of the threat posed by China. In the 2023 report as we came out of the Covid pandemic, we learn things are becoming ever more threatening. The latest report says, “The CCP gave its leader Xi Jinping unprecedented power over the Party and the country. Xi and the CCP relied ever more heavily on nationalist appeals, as was evident in its escalating rhetoric and menacing military actions toward Taiwan. Faced with a series of crises and unexpected developments, China’s Communist Party regime reacted, not by reexamining its assumptions and modifying its approach, but rather by doubling down on existing policies. In the near term these choices have increased the challenge China poses to the security, prosperity, and shared values of the United States and its democratic allies and partners.”
A significant part of countering external threats from China falls to the Navy as the most serious threats manifest themselves in maritime scenarios especially in seas adjacent to China. Recognizing thisthreat from the PRC is why the largest combatant command is INDOPACOM. Fully 60% of our forward deployed naval combatants are in the Pacific keeping watch on China. Fact 1: The world is 70% ocean. Fact 2: 90% of the world’s commerce goes by sea. Fact 3: One third of the entire world’s commerce transits the South China Sea which is contiguous to mainland China. Fact 4: Any conflict with the PRC over Taiwan or any other pacific ally will totally disrupt the world’s economy including that of the US. If you value your current life style and comforts, you need to recognize this threat. War with China has the potential to change literally everything.
Just how well we are meeting the threat and effectively dealing with it? The media, prominent politicians of both parties, and citizens alike have raised the alarm about our Navy. To assess the Navy, we should look at three main categories, capability, readiness, and leadership.
Capability: In 2016 the Navy said its requirement was for 355 combatant ships. In 2018 the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) mandated a Navy of 355 combatants finally recognizing the increasing threat. Five years later in 2023, the Navy as of April 2023 had 296 ships and will actually decrease to 293 by the end of 2024 according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). No plan put forth by the Navy or Congress will get us to the mandated number of ships before the 2050’s at the earliest. The Navy and the Marine Corps cannot even agree on the number of Amphibious ships we should have. A Congressionally mandated shipbuilding requirement study, the “National Commission on the Future of the Navy” which was created in the 2023 NDAA has not even started to work to pin down an upgraded requirement for ships. That Commission is expected to confirm a requirement substantially larger than the number mandated by the NDAA 5 years ago. Heritage Foundation in its 2023 Index of Military Readiness Strength Report concluded that the Navy needs at least 400 manned combatants and assessed the Navy’s capability as “weak”. Even if the Navy and Congress could agree on the number of ships that are needed to defend the nation against the PRC and others and Congress actually authorized the money to build those ships, the US lacks the industrial capability to build the ships that we need. Recently departed CNO ADM Gilday said on numerous occasions “the biggest impediment to building the ships we need is lack of industrial capacity. Contrast our ~60 ships in the INDOPACOM area of responsibility with the CCP’s 2025 projected 400 combatants according to the CRS, 150 armed Coast Guard ships, and hundreds more of its Maritime Militia. The unbalance in the Pacific is dangerous to the US and our allies and is getting more lopsided by the day.
That same industrial maintenance capability is likewise woefully under-resourced as is evidenced by the horrendous record in recent years of maintenance delayed for years and ships taking much longer to repair and at higher cost than estimates indicated. The GAO in January 2023 reports, that “Sustainment Challenges Have Worsened across the Ship Classes Reviewed.” “GAO reviewed key sustainment metrics for 10 ship classes and found that from fiscal years 2011 through 2021, these classes faced persistent and worsening sustainment challenges.” GAO reports “From 2017 to 2020, the backlog of restoration and modernization projects at the Navy shipyards has grown by over $1.6 billion, an increase of 31 percent.” And “In 2018, the Navy estimated that it would need to invest about $4 billion in its dry docks to obtain the capacity to perform the 67 availabilities it cannot currently support. This estimate included 14 dry dock projects planned over [a] 20-year span. However…the Navy’s first three dry dock projects have grown in cost from an estimated $970 million in 2018 to over $5.1 billion in 2022, an increase of more than 400 percent.” Heritage found the Navy to be either weak or very weak in readiness. At a time of increased threat, the Navy has clearly lost ground on keeping ships ready for sea. Unready ships and deferred or cancelled maintenance puts an added burden on the ship’s crews.
Navy Leadership has been questioned in a very public ways in recent years by an astounding series incidents, accidents, and sideshows. These leadership lapses have called into question the quality of Navy leadership.
In no case, has Navy leadership risen to the occasion and addressed or solved these seemingly intractable problems. Is that because they are too hard? Or, is it the lack of the kind of inspired leadership that was typical of the Navy in the past from famous Navy leaders of yore like Jones, Barry, Farragut, King, Nimitz, Halsey, Burke, Perry, and Calvert?
Lastly, and the elephant in the room regarding leadership, is the Navy’s inexplicable devotion to and zeal in promoting the woke concepts of the political left. Things like Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, month long Pride celebrations for the tiny percent of the Navy that are gay, promoting drag queen shows on ships (the CO who authorized this outrageous conduct by active-duty sailors was selected for flag), accommodating so called transgendered personnel who want to change their gender, promoting what pronouns must be used are now commonplace throughout the Navy. How do these emphases create the warriors? How do these programs make our ships more lethal? Focus on “social justice” ideology adds not one whit to our effectiveness and lethality as a naval force. There is not a scintilla of evidence that DEI improves the readiness of the Navy. Not explained is how these social fads or influences of our secular society enhance lethality, improve morale or readiness, or make for a more effective Navy to defend our nation. At best they are a harmless distraction and resources drain instead of a laser focus on more important things. At worst, they are an erosion of the core values of merit, courage, honor, and commitment that the Navy emphasized when I served for decades. Those traditional values were what it took to defeat the Soviet Union. And, I am proud of what we accomplished bolstered by those values.
Surveying the state of the Navy is a sorrowful exercise for this life-long Navy man. I grew up in the Navy as the son of a Master Chief and my entire adult life has been in service to the Navy that I love. Will we have the ships we need to fight our enemies? Will the ships we have be ready for sea? Will the ships be manned by those selected for their high merit and warrior characteristics? Or, will our new woke Navy be up to the task even if we overcome the deficiencies in capabilities, readiness and other leadership failures described above? Citizens must ask themselves and others these important questions. And, if you do not like the answers you are getting, contact your elected representatives and sound the alarm. Your lives and way of life depend on it.