Hand in hand with the previous post on promoting warriors (see, "Promoting Warriors"), the Navy needs to shift from its current “presence” deployment mindset to a readiness mindset. “Presence” is a very questionable concept and long deployments that accomplish nothing but sailing in circles and hosting dignitaries from small countries are nearly pointless and produce far more wear and tear on equipment and personnel than can be justified. Yes, there is a degree of training but it’s a repetitive, routine type of training that does little to foster operational and tactical expertise.
The Navy needs to be mainly “at home” training and maintaining – ensuring readiness.
Let’s briefly look at the concept of presence. The theory is that because we have ships in a region, the local bad actors will behave. The problem is that there is very little evidence to support this and a lot of evidence to the contrary. Our presence in the
South China Sea certainly hasn’t deterred ’s behavior.
They’ve built illegal islands, made illegal territorial claims, used
their “Coast Guard” to bully other nations, trespassed into Philippine waters,
flagrantly harassed the US Navy, and made ridiculous claims about ownership of
other nation’s land. Our presence in China Europe hasn’t stopped from annexing Russia Crimea and invading Urkraine. Our
presence in the Middle East hasn’t stopped terrorism, Iranian nuclear ambitions,
Iranian seizures of RN and USN naval craft and personnel, or general Iranian
harassment of commercial and military ships.
And so on.
So, if presence isn’t gaining us anything, why do it? Why send ships, aircraft, and sailors on endless deployments that accomplish next to nothing? Why accumulate wear and tear on equipment for no gain? Why separate sailors from their families for months on end to no good purpose? Why prematurely age our ships if they can’t accomplish anything? Does conducting naval exercises with some tiny country whose biggest “warship” is a patrol boat really enhance our national security?
Okay, if our current deployments aren’t accomplishing much, what should the Navy be doing? The answer is obvious. The Navy should be maintaining and training … full time. The fleet needs to be “home based” – more on that in a bit. Instead of deploying for months at a time, ships need to conduct relatively short combat training exercises and then return to port for maintenance. While in port, crews need to be conducting simulator training, classroom training, attending the various schools, and conducting tactical wargame exercises.
Having the bulk of the fleet in concentrated locations will also allow us to conduct larger, more realistic exercises. It’s way past time to conduct actual multi-carrier exercises. We need to conduct realistic exercises and learn how to execute the Navy’s vaunted “distributed lethality” concept (or find out that it’s a garbage concept and drop it). We need to see what a surface action group can do. And so on.
If you’re not training, you’re maintaining. Those are the only two options for a peacetime Navy.
Now, let’s discuss that “home basing” concept. There’s no problem with having several “home bases” with concentrations of ships and aircraft. In addition to the obvious east and west coasts, places like
Pearl Harbor, Guam, and the like offer possibilities for home basing as well as enhanced
realism training. For example, ships
based in Guam can take advantage of the South China Sea to conduct realistic training in the actual
geography that they would fight in. If Guam’s facilities are inadequate for the maintenance needs then ships can
rotate through Guam for exercises and return to a maintenance facility
when exercises are finished. As an added
bonus, some of the locations offer the side benefit of a degree of “presence”
though those types of missions should never be done for their own sake.
Caveat: Here’s the exception to what I’ve just said. If we’re willing to conduct presence missions that include a willingness to use force, then presence can have an effect. For example, if we had sunk the Iranian boats that seized our craft and sailors, that would have sent an actual message. If we had shot down the Russian aircraft that buzzed our ships at a distance of 30 ft, that would have sent a message. If we prevented the Chinese from building illegal artificial islands, that would be a worthwhile use of presence. If we would have shot down the Iranian ballistic missiles that were recently tested, that would have sent a message. If we used our ship-based BMD (ballistic missile defense) capability to shoot down NKorea’s ballistic test missiles when they enter international airspace and become, thereby, a general threat, that would send a message. Lacking the willingness to exercise a forceful presence, we’re just wasting time and need to adopt the training and maintenance regimen I’ve just described.