In recent decades,
has grown used to short wars: Desert Storm, America , Bosnia and Iraq (if you don’t count the protracted nation building and policing after the initial combat), Afghanistan , and so forth. However, this short-war mindset has had a detrimental effect on many aspects of our military. For example, many munitions have insufficient inventory for a protracted affair, spare parts inventory and supply chains are sized for peacetime, ship design/construction/cost has become so exaggerated and complex that ships can no longer be replaced in a “quick” time frame, and R&D programs require years or decades to come to fruition, if ever, and so on. Libya
What happens if we ever get into a protracted war given that “protracted” almost certainly means heavy attrition of ships, planes, and supplies? Seriously, though, is a protracted war likely? Well, I don’t think
is going to be defeated in 90 days. In fact, there has been a great deal of discussion in professional journals of this very concept as regards a war with China . Strategies have been put forth whereby we fight a stand-off war around the periphery of contested areas, never really attempting to penetrate or deliver a decisive blow. Instead, the strategy would be to slowly strangle the enemy’s warfighting capability over time. Whether this is a viable strategy or not (ComNavOps thinks not) there is no question that attrition would be a major factor. From the Navy’s point of view this is going to lead to a steady decrease in available ships and planes with little capability to build replacements in any useful time frame. Of course, one assumes that attrition would be two-sided; China would also suffer attrition. However, unlike the U.S. Navy, China is trending towards much greater numbers of platforms than the China and has recently demonstrated markedly faster development and construction cycles. In other words, U.S. is much better positioned to win a war of attrition and that advantage is only going to grow over time. China
One of the traditional solutions to this type of scenario is to maintain a reserve fleet (Mobilization Category B) from which units could be reactivated in relatively short time periods. Additionally, reserve units could be used to take over lower intensity tasks thereby freeing up more modern and capable units for front line duty. Sounds good and obvious, right? Well, there’s a problem. We don’t have much of a reserve fleet.
It’s difficult to get accurate listings of reserve ships partly because there are many different classifications of inactive ships and administrative responsibility is shared by several different organizations with sometimes overlapping responsibilities. Ultimately, it appears that only those ships classified as Mobilization Category B (Cat B) are actually maintained in a state that would allow a reasonable opportunity for reactivation. These would be the ships that one would typically think of as reserves or “mothballed”. Unbelievably, examination of several sources indicates that the Cat B fleet consists of only 10-20 ships of which only half a dozen or so are combat ships – the remainder being amphibious or logistics. For practical purposes, the
has no reserve fleet! Unwisely, for the last several decades we’ve been scrapping, selling, or SinkEx’ing our more capable potential reserve units. U.S.
|Reserve Fleet - No More?|
For example, the entire Spruance destroyer class was SinkEx’ed. They were the best ASW units ever built and with software systems upgrades would be more effective, even today, in the ASW role than the current Burkes. With a New Threat Upgrade (NTU) type of upgrade they would still make formidable platforms in a Chinese war especially later on when both sides had suffered attrition (in other words, our old ships would be better than their old ships).
The Perry FFG’s are being sold off to other countries as fast as we can find buyers. Perry’s would be a perfect example of filling low intensity roles that would free up more capable units.
class nuclear attack subs are being scrapped rather than placed into a reserve status. These SSNs are still superior to most or all current Chinese subs. Los Angeles
The retired Ticonderoga Aegis cruisers appear to all be slated for scrapping as opposed to reserve status. Truly baffling! Even the older, non-VLS cruisers are highly capable Aegis AAW platforms and ought to be upgradeable to VLS if it came to that.
The USS Kitty Hawk is the only non-nuclear inactive aircraft carrier being maintained in Cat B status. The Ranger,
, Forrestal, Constellation, Kennedy, and Independence are all in various stages of scrapping or donation as memorial/museum ships. The Saratoga is already slated for scrapping. Enterprise
So, if we become engaged in a protracted war of attrition, where are the replacement ships going to come from? Clearly, it won’t be from a reserve fleet. I’m assuming that the lack of a reserve fleet stems from the costs of maintenance that such a fleet entails. As we’ve discussed previously, Navy leadership is so focused on new construction that they are unwilling to allocate any funds towards reserve fleet maintenance. This is a very short-sighted policy that could prove costly down the road. In the relatively near future, the Burke class destroyers will begin to retire along with the remaining Ticonderogas and
subs. These ships, along with Los Angeles , would form the basis of a viable reserve fleet. The Navy needs to look beyond new construction and start building a reserve fleet especially given the downward trend in active ship numbers. Enterprise