One of the cornerstones of naval readiness has been the capacity to surge non-deployed ships in a crisis. A portion of the ships that were not currently deployed but were conducting maintenance and working up for deployments have always been capable of being surged. In other words, their maintenance, readiness, and training was sufficient that they could be deployed in a crisis and still be functional and safe even if not fully ready.
Of late, though, CNO and other Navy leaders have described extensive reductions in maintenance, deferred maintenance, idled air wings, air wings operating at the bare minimum to even be qualified for flight, and so on. Additionally, cross-decking appears to be at an all time high. Even CNO has alluded to the practice as a means of ensuring that deploying ships have the equipment and personnel they need. Of course, when equipment and personnel are cross-decked to outgoing ships, the ships and units they came from are left with sizable gaps meaning that they are no longer surge capable. CNO has specifically stated that the current surge capacity is well below normal and that the situation will only get worse as sequestration continues.
As budget cuts, continuing resolutions, and sequestration continue to further impact the Navy, we are not only losing our forward deployed capabilities but also our surge capacity. It’s the loss of surge capacity that is not readily apparent to many people but is just as serious as the potential loss of deployed assets. Of course, a portion of the impact on maintenance, training, and surge capacities is due to voluntary decisions by Navy leadership which has prioritized new construction over all else. Still, the various budget pressures are impacting surge capacity and all signs indicate that it will get worse before it gets better.
We can juggle deployment schedules, extend deployment times, reduce coverage, and play other games to scrape by during peacetime but if a true crisis erupts and we have no surge capacity we’ll be in serious trouble.