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US Navy Supply Ship Conrep

The hospital ship USNS Comfort conducts a replenishment-at-sea with the fast combat support ship USNS Supply. (U.S. Navy photo by Pat Morrissey)

New Report Says US Navy Capacity Is “Very Weak”

John Konrad
Total Views: 5478
October 19, 2022

By Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) US Congressman Mike Gallagher, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered a stark warning to American citizens yesterday in response to a new report by the Heritage Foundation that ranked the US Navy “very weak” in terms of capacity and under immense strain to maintain readiness.

“For the first time in the history of the Heritage index the overall rating of the US Navy was downgraded to “weak” relative to the force needed to defend national interests on a global stage,” said Gallagher. “But here’s the problem: we’ve tried everything to improve the rating and none of it seems to work.”

Gallagher warned the U.S. Navy is entering into a “window of maximum danger” with respect to Taiwan and that to protect U.S. interests, Pentagon leadership needs to focus on creatively using the resources it has today to build a force to deter a Chinese invasion of Taiwan tomorrow.

In his remarks, Gallagher acknowledged that while “long-term investments to rebuild American military superiority in general—and maritime superiority in particular—are critical, the reality is that we will not be able to build the ships the Navy needs within the next five years.”

According to the Heritage report, the Navy’s weak 2023 Military Strength Index score was driven by “very weak” capacity (the number of ships) and a “weak” level of readiness (training and availability). The US Navy received a “marginal score” in capability but Heritage claims this is also trending down.

To correct this trend, Heritage reports the US Navy must eliminate several readiness and capacity bottlenecks in shipyards and manufacturing lines, increase repair shipyard capacity, and improve weapons capabilities to counter Russian and Chinese naval advances.

Related Book: The Abandoned Ocean: A History of United States Maritime Policy

“There is added urgency given that China is aggressively posturing itself to obtain an advantage over Taiwan,” writes Brent Sadler, a Navy veteran and Seapower expert at Heritage. “Many of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to improve itself will take several years to realize.

In his speech, Rep. Gallagher laid out ideas to compensate for the low number of ships the US Navy has to counter China:

  • Install more long-range precision missiles in three concentric rings across the Pacific:
    • (1) the First Island Chain
    • (2) the Second Island Chain plus the Central Pacific islands, and
    • (3) the outer edges of the theater including Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia
  • Max out the capacity of weapons production lines and modernize the Defense Production Act
  • Move Taiwan to the front of the Foreign Military Sales line and clear the backlog of $14 billion dollars worth of foreign military sales (FMS) items that have been approved but not delivered
  • Provide direct financial assistance to Taiwan, and give the Pentagon drawdown authority to directly provide defense articles to Taiwan.

“We don’t lack options, we lack leadership,” said Gallagher. “We lack leadership in the Pentagon capable of bending the bureaucracy to service a defense strategy that prioritizes hard power. And we lack leadership in the White House that understands the paradox of deterrence.”

Time is running out

According to Gallagher time is not on the side of America and Taiwan because we have entered the window of maximum danger, or the “Davidson Window,” which is a reference to former Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Phil Davidson’s assessment that China may make a move on Taiwan within the next five years. Gallagher believes to Navy’s current “divest to invest” plan – decommissioning ships and hard assets to pay for new technologies – within the Davidson Window is dangerous.

Republican leaders lay some of the blame on Biden, claiming the President’s defense budget would force the Navy to bottom out at 280 ships and the Air Force to cut over 1000 airplanes by 2027, just in time for the Peaople Liberation Army’s 100th anniversary and target date for China having the capability to invade Taiwan.

“We lack leadership that understands the paradox of deterrence,” said Gallagher. “That to avoid war, you must convince your adversary that you are both capable and willing to wage war.

Much of the Navy’s plan – as outlined by the Chief Of Naval Operations Admiral Gilday – currently rests on increasing weapons capability (instead of building more ships) and accelerating the pace of new technology (e.g. autonomous warships, laser defense systems and hypersonic weapons) but some naval analysts believe new technology would arrive too late and could possibly be stolen by China.

“Most of the new technology the Pentagon is investing may not be fielded until the 2030s,” Gallagher said “Making matters worse, we’re running low on the munitions that are essential to both Ukraine and Taiwan. Two months into the war we had already sent Ukraine a quarter of our entire Stinger stockpile and more than seven years’ worth of Javelins.”

The US Merchant Marine Is Worse

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine proves the critical importance of military logistics but notably absent from the report is the state of the US Merchant Marine and Military Sealift Command. These organizations will be critical to delivering oil and supplies over the vast distances of the Pacific ocean.

“The US Merchant Marine is in worse shape than the Navy,” said Dr. Sal Mercogliano, host of the popular What’s Going on With Shipping YouTube channel, in a recent series of tweets. “The US Maritime Administration (Led by United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg) has a Ready Reserve Fleet of military supply ships that’s supposed to be at 85% readiness but the average age of these ships is over 40 years and, when tested the fleet in 2019, they achieve just 40% readiness.”

Related Book: The Abandoned Ocean: A History of United States Maritime Policy

Mercogliano says that China, Korea and Japan are able to produce warships efficiently because they have a commercial maritime industrial base and those governments do more to help support commercial shipyards. These nations also have more repair shipyards and ship upgrade facilities that can be used by both commercial and naval ships.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD), which falls under the Department of Transportation (DOT), is responsible for supporting America’s shipyards and shipbuilding capacity. However, the current head of the DOT, Pete Buttigieg, has done little to support the US Navy or US Merchant Marine shipbuilders — all of which are vital to national security.

“We can’t wait for DOT to better support shipyards. The biggest advocate for the building of commercial shipyards should be the US Navy,” says Mercogliano.

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