Navy A National Security Failure

The United States Navy is no longer big enough to defend our shores and safeguard America’s interests and citizens around the globe. It is time for Americans to hold our leaders accountable for this failure.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently analyzed the funding needed to build the Navy to 313 ships the minimum number the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say is required to meet our national security requirements. Building on data from its 2005 report, the CBO notes that from 2000 through 2008, the Navy was authorized to build fewer than six ships per year, shrinking the fleet to an inadequate 278 ships.

Our Navy is now less than half the size it was 20 years ago, and 40 ships fewer than just a decade ago.

Until recently, every president since World War I Democrat or Republican and every Congress, regardless of party leadership, understood that a Navy of more than 300 ships is essential to keep the peace, defend our shores and safeguard America’s global interests. Keeping the sea lanes open has never been more important, especially given our reliance on imported oil and the globalization of trade.

Threats to those sea lanes are increasing. China, with clear intent to become a maritime power, is building a modern, 200-plus-ship Navy with a focus on submarines. Iran recently threatened to cut off the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf. Even Russia has resumed naval deployments and recently announced plans to build five new aircraft carriers. Every day news reports carry word of another act of piracy in unpatrolled waters.

No nation has maintained global viability without having maritime superiority. We have been a global leader for more than a century because we are a strong maritime nation. By failing to properly fund shipbuilding, our leaders have broken from the proven record of their predecessors.

Equally important is the impact that failure to adequately fund Navy requirements has had on America’s shipbuilding infrastructure. We now have so few remaining shipyards and such a severe shortage of skilled labor that the industrial base would be hard pressed to meet the need to build or repair large numbers of ships during a conflict.

A typical Navy warship has an expected life of 30 years. To maintain a Navy of at least 300 ships, the nation must fund and build at least 10 ships per year. The CBO now estimates it will take $27 billion per year to reach and maintain a 313- ship Navy, a direct consequence of past decisions to fund only a handful of ships per year. The total “bill” for the chronic underfunding of Navy shipbuilding approaches $100 billion dollars. Unfortunately, the president’s budget for 2009 only asks Congress for $14.1 billion for ship construction, which will put the fleet even further behind. It is imperative that our government leaders reconsider the amount to be spent on shipbuilding beginning in 2009, and that the current candidates for the Oval Office and Congress are questioned about their commitment to maintaining America’s naval strength.

William Korach is a retired commander, USNR, and legislative affairs chairman for the Navy League, St. Augustine Council.

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