We cannot keep this up and still be a global fleet

August 4, 2013
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The sleight of hand budgeting the Navy was able to pull off in FY 13 in order to maintain fleet readiness is going to be increasingly difficult with the specter of sequester hanging over both the FY14 and FY15 budgets (and beyond).  That was the message from two senior Navy leaders at last week’s Joint Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces and Readiness Subcommittees.  Rear Admiral Timothy S. Matthews, USN (Director, Fleet Readiness, OPNAV N43, Chief of Naval Operations, Department of Defense) and Rear Admiral Thomas S. Rowden, USN (Director, Surface Warfare, OPNAV N96, Chief of Naval Operations, Department of Defense) reinforced what has become a consistent and relentless message from the Navy: we cannot keep this up and still be a global fleet.

A newsworthy moment was made when RADM Rowden asserted that without relief from sequestration, the fleet in 2020 would consist of 257 ships rather the 295 ships projected in the FY 2014 30 Shipbuilding Plan. This budget driven decline would arise from both building fewer ships and from decommissioning others.

Further exacerbating the fleet size problem is the fact that ship maintenance availabilities will continue to be deferred and canceled (8 FY 13 availabilities were moved to FY 14, with assumptions that sequester would be gone) with 30 such availabilities on schedule for FY14. Sequester will almost certainly push a number of FY 14 availabilities into FY15, and we see the seeds of hollowness beginning to germinate.  As maintenance is deferred and canceled, ship life is “used up” under high tempo operations.  Keeping ships until their expected service life dates are one of the primary variables that goes into the fleet size metrics.  These would have to be adjusted (downward) if maintenance dollars continue to be scarce.

Adding insult to injury Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, – the source of recent shipyard maintenance funding, will soon be a thing of the past.

Both men made it clear (as has the CNO in recent public statements) that the readiness of non-deployed forces are crucial to ensure continuing naval presence around the world.  Where previously the Navy had three carrier battle groups and three amphibious ready groups available for surge, there would likely be only one of each under sequester funding levels.  This is a risk calculation, and probably not a bad one given all the competing bad choices: pulling back from the world and/or gutting procurement.


Bryan McGrath is the founding Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC.  A retired Naval Officer, Bryan spent 21 years on active duty including a tour in command of USS BULKELEY (DDG 84).  His final duties ashore included serving as Team Lead and Primary Author of the US Navy’s 2007 Maritime Strategy A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.


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5 thoughts on “We cannot keep this up and still be a global fleet

  1. The effects of sequester funding cuts currently seen should be seen as the thin end of the budget cut wedge. Massive cuts are coming – soon – and real decisions will have to be made unlike the current practice of deferring or delaying maintenance and procurement to achieve budgetary goals.

    Like most other Western/developed nations, the US government has massively overspent its tax base and continues to do so despite a declining economy.

    Accounting tricks and borrowing have hidden the costs so far, but reality is catching up. U6 unemployment figures are in the 14% range, which more closely reflects the reality as opposed to the U3 figures usually quoted by the mainstream media (7.4%). The last set of “good news” employment figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that the USA has created 246,000 new jobs in the food service industry so far in 2013 (read waiters and bartenders). The manufacturing sector has only produced 24,000 new jobs. In other words, ten times the number of the new jobs created are in the low paying part-time less-than-39-hrs-a-week sector. Hard to tax those folks to pay for new ships. The list of other economic statistics is truly terrifying when you look beneath the patina placed on them by the White House and CNBC. The economic central planning practices of the Congress and the Fed are coming home to roost.

    Future planning and scenarios should include the possibility of the 200 ship navy in 2020 with a significant amount of the pain to be felt sooner rather than later.

  2. CDR McGrath’s (USN, Ret) observations raise alarming but all too real issues concerning our current Navy, its strategic goals, and procurement issues regarding maritime capabilities, capacities and costs (I’ll introduce it in Navy-ese as C3).

    As sequestration begins to set in, ships are having a much more difficult time sourcing the necessary parts and technical assistance required to ensure our fleet is able to meet operational readiness. Overtime for intermediate maintenance level technicians has been cut back; repairs that could be accomplished by ship’s force are being sidelined because the parts costs are too high (this is on a case-by-case basis); and continuous maintenance and restricted maintenance availability periods are being shaved or cut.

    Put this in the context of greater Navy spending “projects” that have either been complete disasters in the form of running over budget (F-35) or projects that have been ill defined and yielded inconclusive results concerning platform choice and mission (LCS, namely the Lockheed vs GenDynamics hulls). While the design, construction and testing of new weapons platforms will suffer setbacks (if they are executed with positive scrutiny), this is funding that could have been better served maintaining weapons systems and hulls which have defined mission capabilities and have executed them successfully (consider ballistic missile defense ships with Aegis AN-SPY1D or the DDG-51 class hull). These are also systems that have much life left in them if preventative and corrective maintenance is performed correctly and in good time.

    If the Navy is serious about saving money while ensuring fleet readiness, it needs to begin by seriously evaluating strategic goals and the platforms which are currently in service, and those which will be available in the next 15 years. Why should we maintain an odd number of CG-47 Ticonderoga Class cruisers when we have a robust number of DDG-51s (FLT1, FLT2, FLT2a) that can execute the same missions? If the Navy wants to continue to pursue a littoral fleet and be able to support the various missions that are associated with those waters, than choose one LCS rather than building two types from different companies with different support networks. Similar remarks could be saved for the submarine fleet regarding the various classes which have been tinkered with over the past 15 years.

    Keep in mind that this does not even take into account undermanning issues which further exacerbate the aforementioned problem. Capacity, capability and cost are the new “triad” which the Navy is seriously going to have to manage efficiently if it wants to remain a global presence.

  3. Quote: If the Navy wants to continue to pursue a littoral fleet and be able to support the various missions that are associated with those waters, than choose one LCS rather than building two types from different companies with different support networks. end of quote.

    Excellent point, but it might be useful to remember that is was Congress that was really driving the idea for two different programs – not so much the USN.

  4. Excellent point and something that I should have further fleshed out. The ridiculousness of the LCS program is the fact that we have ordered more of each class, without addressing which design best suites what we (I will not say “know” because that is a farce) think we need.

    In this case, maybe it is what Congress thinks it wants rather than senior Navy leadership.

  5. Is the Author, Bryan McGrath, managing director of FerryBridge Group, the same young LT PERSONNEL OFFICER aboard USS GUADALCANAL (LPH 7) – if so we serve together way back when…and you still have the same fire and spirit you had back then…hope you are one in the same.

    Best Regards,