Monday, June 16, 2014

Congress Versus Navy

It’s been fascinating to watch the Navy battle with Congress over the years.  Naively, one would think that the Navy and Congress are on the same side – the side of the United States – but that is clearly not the case.  The Navy has come up with one maneuver after another designed to thwart or bypass the intent of Congress. 

The recent back and forth over the issue of early retirement of Aegis cruisers is the latest example.  The Navy is determined to early retire the cruisers, presumably to remove competition with the Flt III AMDR, while Congress is determined to preserve the cruisers in active service.

You’ll recall that the Navy announced several early retirements a few years ago and Congress countered by passing additional funding and directing the Navy to retain the cruisers.  Undeterred by Congressional intent, the Navy hit upon the ploy of “idling” 11 cruisers pending “modernization”.  Of course, no one believes that the cruisers will ever be modernized and returned to duty and even the Navy’s own stated plan is for the cruisers to be modernized and returned to duty on a one-for-one replacement basis for older cruisers.  Thus, there will only ever be 11 active cruisers – a point the Navy glosses over.  Just as ComNavOps sees this for the transparent ploy it is, so to Congress appears to understand what the Navy is doing.  The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) report (1) states,

“The Committee is concerned that this long term lay up will lead to decommissioning of some or all of these cruisers in the near future.”

The HAC passed its version of the FY2015 defense bill and directly addresses the Navy’s cruiser plans with the following provisions.

  • The Navy is limited to idling no more than two cruisers per year beginning in 2016.
  • The Navy is limited to a maximum of six idled cruisers at any given time.
  • No cruiser can be kept idled for more than four years.

Of course, the bill must still pass the complete House so changes are possible, though unlikely.

There you have it.  Congress is once again making its wishes known.  Will the Navy acquiesce and accept the legal authority of Congress or will the Navy come up with yet another creative scheme for bypassing Congressional intent?  My money’s on the Navy.  If they would apply half the creativity to warfighting that they apply to thwarting Congressional oversight, we’d have twice the Navy we do now!

Now, before any of you tell me how inept Congress is, recognize that that’s not the point.  The point is that Congress has legal budgetary and oversight authority over the Navy.  Given our system of civilian control of the military, the Navy is bound to obey Congress whether right or wrong.  If the Navy feels Congress is wrong then it’s on the Navy to make the case for what they want.  It is not the right of the Navy to continually thwart Congressional intent.  Doing so is dishonorable and unethical if not illegal.  It is unworthy of uniformed leadership and violates the spirit and tradition of civilian control.

The Navy should not be asking how they can bypass Congress in the next iteration of the battle but, rather, why they can’t make a compelling case for what they want.  Maybe, just maybe, the answer is that there isn’t a compelling case to be made! 

Navy leadership has sunk awfully low over the last few decades and it may be that Congress, as inept as they are, are actually seeing things in a clearer light than the Navy.


  1. Is this a problem with all the services, or just the Navy?

    1. I really don't know. I don't follow the other services closely enough. Sorry!

    2. All of the services play games with Congress...


    3. Sadly, to be expected, I guess.


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