Naval Crisis Deepening, Vice Admiral Warns

The U.S. Navy’s three-star admiral in charge of resources and integration is sounding a little more alarming than I last realized. Aviation Week’s Bettina Chavanne has been covering the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference near Washington this week where Vice Adm. Barry McCullough is apparently sounding significant warnings.

Today’s Navy is not large enough to meet demands from the theater, he says to no one’s surprise. “We are not everywhere we need to be,” McCullough notes. “There’s a deficit for naval forces globally.”

But here’s where he really gets my attention: “There isn’t enough money in the topline budget to meet the Maritime Strategy.”

That would be the national Maritime Strategy. Wow. We’ve known for a while that the 313-ship plan accepted increased risk already, whether it’s submarines or aircraft carriers. But when we’re already admitting that the armed services can’t meet a practically new national maritime strategy, then we may be deeper in trouble than we know. I mean, it’s not like it gets any easier or cheaper to build up the fleet in the future.

“When we developed our fleet response plan, the goal was to meet our global commitments and have a surge-ready force,” McCullough said Jan. 14. “Based on requirements from the combatant commanders, we’re using that surge capacity.” The monetary draw against procurement from operations and maintenance accounts keeps rising, he said, pointing to what he called the “Triangle of Death:” personnel, procurement and readiness.

I’m sure there is some degree of parochial Navy promotion in what the admiral says – the Navy and Air Force have been battling budget conditions favoring the ground forces under the Bush administration. But I’ve seen McCullough testify on Capitol Hill several times and to call him understated would be an understatement. He doesn’t strike me as one to falsely declare the sky is falling.

I hope the new Washington is paying attention.

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