Breaking Defense website has an article about the Navy’s ongoing battle with Congress over the early retirement of Aegis cruisers (1). You’ll recall that the Navy attempted to retire several cruisers a couple of years ago, well before their service life was reached. Presumably, they wanted to free up funds and build a foundation of justification to build new Burke Flt IIIs. You know, along the lines of, “We have to have more Flt IIIs because we don’t have enough Aegis AAW command cruisers.” – conveniently omitting the fact that the reason they don’t have enough is because they retired the most powerful ships on the planet well ahead of the end of their service life!
In any event, Congress balked at the attempt and directed the Navy to retain the cruisers.
The Navy, undaunted by Congressional mandate, came up with the thinly veiled stratagem of “idling” 11 cruisers (half the cruiser force) for a leisurely eleven year “modernization”. No one, including Congress, believed that. The cruisers, once idled, would never be seen again. Congress responded to this end-around by mandating that only a few cruisers at a time could enter modernization and that the work had to be completed within a four year period of time. This was the 2/4/6 plan whereby only two cruisers per year could enter modernization, the work had to be completed in four years, and only six cruisers could be in modernization at one time.
The latest development in this saga has Congress modifying the 2/4/6 plan to a 2/2/6 plan in which the modernization work must be completed in two years rather than four. This seems perfectly reasonable. Two years is plenty of time to modernize a ship if the Navy is actually serious about the effort and not just trying to use modernization as a back door retirement.
The problem, which has been discussed numerous times in this blog, is that the Navy has no credibility with Congress. From the website’s article interviewing Randy Forbes, House Seapower Subcommittee Chairman,
“They really don’t want to do the modernization,” Forbes told me. “What the Navy really wants to do is what they did from day one: They want to take seven of these cruisers out of commission and destroy them.”
As evidence, Forbes points out that the Navy has not budgeted the money for modernization. They're ready and eager to take the ships out of service but have yet to request modernization money.
“They have no credibility,” Forbes said. “They’ve got to show where they’ve put some money to do it.”
There are two points to get from this article.
1. The Navy is not respecting Congress’ wishes. Whether they agree with Congress or not, they are duty bound to obey their directives. The Navy is displaying utter disrespect and contempt for Congress.
2. Congress seems to have a much better grasp of naval force requirements than the Navy does.
We’ve previously covered the first point so let’s address that second one.
Now, no one is claiming that Congress is a model of organizational wisdom and efficiency, quite the opposite, in fact. However, of late, they are head and shoulders above the Navy and the military in general.
While the Navy is publicly bemoaning the shrinking fleet size (while simultaneously proclaiming that they are on path towards a 300+ ship fleet ?!), they are actually early retiring ships left and right. The entire Tarawa class was early retired. The Perrys were retired rather than upgraded. They attempted to retire half the Aegis cruiser fleet, the most powerful surface combatants in the world. A couple of auxiliaries, the lifeblood of the fleet, are being early retired with no replacement. And so on. Now, most of us would logically conclude that if the Navy deems a 300+ ship fleet important, that early retiring highly effective ships with plenty of lifetime left is foolish and illogical. Thus, Congress is stepping in and providing some much needed logical oversight. The same applies to the Air Force’s ill-considered attempt to retire the A-10 in order to fund F-35s. Of course, we’ve already debunked that logic!
Congress was also the reason why the Navy was forced to stop the original LCS program and come up with a new frigate. Of course, the Navy once again backdoored Congress with the slightly upgraded LCS that is now designated as a frigate – fooling no one.
What does it say about Navy leadership when Congress is exhibiting more wisdom than the Navy?! It is rare that I can say this but, well done Congress. Keep exercising your oversight responsibilities and hold the Navy to account.
(1)Breaking Defense, “Randy Forbes: Navy Has ‘No Credibility’ On Cruisers”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., May 01, 2015,