American naval supremacy has ensured our nation’s strength both militarily and economically for the past century, but a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report on the Obama administration’s budget proposal suggests that could be coming to an end.
Last month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the Navy would need to find cheaper alternatives to its planned “expensive weapons systems” and emphasis on a “blue-water Navy.”
And a report released by the American Enterprise Institute says although the Navy’s ships are more capable than those launched 15 years ago declining numbers of the right kinds of ships could translate into a reduced ability to react to crises around the globe.
This marks a retreat from over 100 years of American naval doctrine that has stressed the importance of sea power to maintaining the nation’s economic and military power. The administration’s policy change ignores the lessons of history and the looming threats of the 21st century.
Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century father of the modern U.S. Navy, first noted strong foreign policy and economics derives from the ability to project naval power. Adherence to his theories helped transform the United States from a third-rate power to superpower in the 20th century.
Spain, The Netherlands and Great Britain each built maintained strong trading empires in the 16th, 17th and 18th – 20th centuries respectively do to the strength of their navies. But each saw its global power decline in proportion to it inability support the cost of its navy.
British naval power collapsed following World War II amid economic pressures at home, which also contributed to the loss of its empire and its superpower status. And the U.S. Navy filled the vacuum it left behind.
The recent economic crisis and bailouts have left the American people shaken, and the administration’s plan to sap the Navy’s strength could further undermine American military and economic might.
The recent CBO report found U.S. Navy plans to buy 198 warships between now and 2040 falls considerably short of its needs in the same period, as existing ships are taken out of service. Many of the U.S. Navy’s key warships are between 20-30 years old and are nearing the end of their lives without viable replacements.
It also suggests the Navy’s plans call for an increased emphasis on support ships, such as supply ships rather than the more expensive warships that had been intended to replace existing vessels.
The navy has decided to cancel a class of new advanced cruisers, known as the CG(X) program, intended to replace the aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers, which the Navy plans to retire in the next 15 years.
Former vice admiral Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak finds the cancellation of the CG(X) program particularly troubling because of its ability to simultaneously target multiple ballistic missiles that might threaten Israel or other allies.
Sestak isn’t convinced yet the navy’s alternative of building an upgraded versions of its Arleigh Burke-class destroyer design will fill in the gap created by its cancellation.
“They really are cutting back on the power-projection capabilities of the United States,” said Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy. “The inventory of ships, both surface and subsurface, is really worrying.”
Gaffney finds the emphasis on building littoral combat ships, designed to fight in shallow water near the shoreline, particularly disturbing because they are not designed for fighting in the open ocean.
“I think what we are going to find is the hollowing out of the Navy, and a sort of deficit … in the ability of this country to fight the nation’s wars if they have to be fought someplace else, particularly projecting power from the sea, “ he said. “These are the sorts of things that are going to be the legacy of the Obama administration.
“It strikes me that there is going to be a far less capable navy than we had in the past and that we certainly need today.”
If the U.S. Navy retreats from its role as the guarantor of peace and commerce on the high seas, who will replace it ̶ China?
The Chinese have embarked on a major shipbuilding campaign of their own, and reports they plan on building two aircraft carriers by 2015. Others are expected to follow and would give them a growing ability to globally project their military power. And the interests of China are not necessarily the same as the United States.
Weakened American naval power would only embolden China and minor naval powers such as Iran at the expense of our nation’s economy and military power.
“It’s kind of a binary thing, you either have ships around the world to represent your interests to protect your interests or you don’t,” Gaffney said.
As Mahan once said: “Force is never more operative than when it is known to exist but is not brandished.”
Force structure is key in the nation’s ability to maintain its global naval reach and says the navy should consider basing aircraft carriers and other assets in striking distance of key trouble spots because they are cheaper and more effective, Sestak says.
Consequently, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the capabilities of the ships the U.S. Navy buys and its strategy in order to preserve America’s naval strength and help ensure prosperity. But the administration’s plans would not achieve these goals.
To continue the Obama administration’s intended path would be foolish because the cuts would be permanent and likely irreversible.
If the administration lets the Navy decline, it will inevitably be followed by a further decline in American military and economic power on the world stage. As a result, American power would go the way of the British Empire.
John Rossomando is a journalist whose work has been featured in numerous publications such as CNSNews.com, Newsmax and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.