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Let’s look at the Navy

With two oceans insulating us from Asia and Europe, along with friendly (and relatively weak) neighbors to the north and south, the United States has relied on the oceans as a buffer zone against hostile forces. Those oceans are the main reason why Americans haven’t seen a war in our cities in over 150 years.

In any conflict against the Russians, winning or losing will come down to how well we can get munitions, supplies, and reinforcements across the oceans.

Both of these facts mean that we need a Navy to protect the shores and to keep our sea lanes open.

During the cold war, the US had 15 carrier battlegroups. Now it has 10. A 1980s carrier battle group had the carrier, two cruisers, three destroyers, three frigates, and a pair of supply ships. (I am not counting the submarines as a part of the group, because they seldom stay close to the carrier. Besides, submarines are not there to keep sea lanes open, they are there to deny those sea lanes to others.)

The air wing of the 1980s consisted of an Airborne Early Warning Squadron flying E2 Hawkeyes, a pair of F14 squadrons flying the F14 Tomcat, a pair of attack squadrons flying the A-7 corsair, an ASW squadron flying the S-3 Viking, a squadron of A6 bombers and tankers, an Electronic Warfare squadron flying the EA6B prowler, an ASW helicopter squadron flying the SH-3 sea king. In all, there were 92 aircraft and 11 ships in a cold war carrier battle group. The aircraft back then had more than double the combat radius as today’s airwing. The battle group had a dedicated ASW capability that was far more capable than today.

Fast forward to today: The CBG has a much diminished ASW capability, and the group consists of the carrier, one cruiser, five destroyers, and a supply ship. The airwing still has 9 squadrons, but they are smaller than squadrons just 30 years ago and carry just 53 aircraft. The Navy has eliminated the submarine hunting S-3, and has combined the functions of the A-6, EA-6B, KA-6D, F-14, and A-7 into just one aircraft platform: the F/A-18.

It doesn’t do most of those jobs as well as the aircraft they replaced. The A-6F Intruder had a 16 ton payload (pdf alert). The A-7 Corsair could carry a 6.8 ton payload. The Hornet has a 4.5 ton payload.

The F/A-18 Hornet has a much shorter range than aircraft of the cold war. This means that the carrier group must get closer to potential adversaries, which is more dangerous.

As an example, the A-6 Intruder had a combat radius of 900 miles, the A7 a radius of 700 miles, the F-14 had a radius of 650 nautical miles. Compare that to the Hornet’s radius of only 330 nautical miles. Now the carrier has to get more than 300 miles closer to the enemy in order to conduct operations.

The CBG used to have the capability of carrying and delivering nuclear weapons. With the elimination of the carriers’ W division, and the elimination of the TLAM-N, that capability has been lost. The personnel who were trained to handle and load these weapons are gone, and it would take years to regain the knowledge and weapons.

Claims of technology

I can hear it now- the forces we have are technologically more advanced, meaning that we don’t need as many ships and aircraft to do the job. While I agree that our platforms and weapons are more capable, so are the platforms and weapons of any near peer enemy. Russian and China have stealth platforms. They have long range missiles. They have hypersonic weapons. So I don’t think we can rely on a technology edge to the point where we can do with fewer ships and aircraft with shorter ranges.

Smaller and top heavy, too

Not only are the ships we have less capable than in the past, the Navy is smaller, as well. In all, the US Navy is half the size now (289 ships) as it was under Secretary Lehman, when the Navy had 594 ships.

One thing the Navy has plenty of is senior officers. In World War II, there were 30 Navy ships for every admiral. In 2022, the Navy has 243 Admirals and only 289 ships. There is one commissioned officer for every five enlisted sailors.

Don’t think that the Navy is the only branch that has this problem. One in 400 soldiers in the US Army is a general. The Air Force has more 3 and 4 star Generals than the Army, despite having half as many personnel.

Generals and Admirals aren’t cheap.  Many of those top officers are surrounded with entourages including chauffeurs, chefs and executive aids. Top flag officers have private jets always at the ready. They live in sometimes palatial homes and frequently travel in motorcades. 

Investigations have shown some in power misuse these perks. General Wiliam “Kip” Ward was demoted for using his staff and military vehicles to take his wife shopping, to spas and on vacations in $700-a-night suites, all at taxpayer expense. Demoted. When I was in the Navy, I saw sailors get kicked out on an OTH discharge for being 15 minutes late to work, and this guy gets a demotion for stealing tens of thousands of dollars.

Our military is no longer capable of doing the job it needs to do. Like a banana republic, it is only really good at taking on small bands of civilian militia. It’s only a matter of time before it is used for exactly that.

The US has cut its ability to project power so severely, that it can no longer afford to be, nor can it be, the world’s policeman.

Russia and China know that.

18 replies on “Let’s look at the Navy”

We grew complacent and relied on our technology too much. Today’s military is just like working for a corporation. For the officers; be nice, get the training that makes your record look good, kiss the right asses, get that sweet corner office. For the enlisted guys, it’s just do the time to get the retirement benefits. Spending 20 years in the ME street fighting with goat-herders has made the military ineffective. Service members viewing military service as just like any job back on the block has made the military weak. The United States will have it’s ass handed to it in a war with either China or Russia. Happens much quicker if it’s with both at the same time.

I hate to say but it’s true none the less. Diversity and affirmative action have compromised the lower ranks as well. In vibrant and diverse communities, maintenance becomes spotty, stuff starts breaking, schedules get blown, and over time a slum develops. If you think Afghanistan was a debacle… you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

One of the reasons we came out on top in WWII was our ability to rapidly replace the ships, planes, tanks, etc. that were destroyed in battle. We were able to do that because of our strong manufacturing base, and the fact that our country was not under attack. Our manufacturing base has been decimated, and with ICBMs and long range bombers with in-flight re-fueling, you can bet our country will not be insulated from attacks next time around.
Yes, we have technologically advanced ships, planes, and tanks, but look how long it takes to produce just one of them, not to mention the cost. I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t be better to have larger quantities of less technologically advanced equipment, than to have a limitted quantity of the high tech stuff.

I had been in the Navy reserves for only two years before they loaned me to the Army, which trained me to be a combat advisor and then deployed me to Afghanistan to teach the ANA counterinsurgency. During the same time, a friend who has been active duty in the Navy for 20+ years somehow managed to avoid being deployed, despite the US having been in 2 wars for 15 yrs. Despite this, he has been promoted to O-6 and may probably make admiral. The point is, we have a lot of officers with seniority & positional authority who get promoted just for marching in parades instead of actually being warriors.

Will the Magic Soil go in the water?
They could paint the fabulous Harvey Milk a simply divine pretty pink color with the sporty captain Jim J. Bullock at the helm in a rainbow pimp suit.
This is going to be so fun to watch the WOKE MIL get its ass handed to it on a paper hecho en China plate.
Love for Chiquitastan? Zero, None. Not my abomination and never will be.

Back in 1989/1990, during Gulf Storm and Bush the elder, there were lots of news stories of people in the military who were shocked, shocked I say, that they would actually be deployed to war. Apparently for a lot of lower income families it became something of a thing to enlist for a set number of years and then get college money. People who basically signed onto a depression era jobs program and/or a college tuition program objected mightily to actually having to ship off to Iraq. A large number of “ladies” suddenly found themselves pregnant too, so any units with a large number of females suddenly found themselves short-handed.

This isn’t anything new is what I’m trying to say. I’ve never served so I don’t know any insider details about absolute capabilities, but fighting goat herders is what we do, apparently. Props to those who did serve, but there’s no denying that anything govt related is corrupt from the top down.

In ignorance of the technicalities involved, my though was, a harpoon with a tether to a box (designed to withstand extremely water pressures) that will only ping in response to the correct coded signal.

No matter what your technology, your units (aircraft, ships, etc) can only be in so many places at once… fewer ships can’t be in as many places at once, especially when each one is shorter ranged than what they replace.
It isn’t just aircraft that are shorter ranged; IIRC the ships generally are too.

In any conflict against the Russians, winning or losing will come down to how well we can get munitions, supplies, and reinforcements across the oceans.

What do you mean ‘across the oceans’? Make the attackers pay the ocean-crossing penalty to come to us! Then use nuclear torpedoes from submarines to sink their battlegroups when the wind is blowing away from our coast. Hollywood might even pay to film the blowing-up and use it in an action movie. Name it “Hunt for Red, in October”.

Exactly. If Russia wants the Ukraine and the US wants to stop them, we are the ones who need SLOC to stop them.
While I don’t think we have sufficient interests in Ukraine to go to war, we can’t sit and wait for an aggressor to come to us. That is how to lose a war.

All this talk about technological advancement and advantages took me back to a comment, made over a beer or couple, with an RAF pilot who had seen real action.
He asked me what would be the safest aircraft over a modern battlefield. Every aircraft I mentioned got a shake of his head. He told me that the safest aircraft over a modern battlefield would be something like the WW1 Sopwith Camel. It was too cool for heat-seeking missiles, it had no radar signature (it was canvas and wood) and it was TOO SLOW for modern jets to intercept!

But it would not be a match for any modern helicopter firing optically or laser guided missiles.

On the supply side, we’re in big trouble too.

We no longer have much of a mothball fleet of merchant ships to carry out a surge sealift if needed. Last year’s unscheduled activation exercise of the mothballed ships we DO have was a dismal failure. More than half failed to activate due to mechanical failure. The ships we do have average over 40 years old. We have only 7 Fast Sealift ships, the only ones that can keep up with a carrier battle group, but they’re now just under 50 years old, and each burns more fuel than a pre-nuclear aircraft carrier.
The ammo ships are better, but there aren’t many of those either. There are converted old rotten bulk ships and a couple of tankers though, averaging 20 years past the end of their service life.

It’s not like the Military Sealift Command has enough mariners to run the ships we do have, anyhow. Their average voyage contract is 4 months but their average voyage is over a year… AND they don’t guarantee time off between voyages. Nothing better than being recalled for a new voyage 6 days after you just finished a 14 month tour away from your family.
We’re going to run into the same problem that the British had in the Falkland Islands, where they ran out of ammo, and had to resort to human wave bayonet charges with empty rifles during firefights. Shame we can’t put generals and admirals on those fields. We have plenty of both to spare, and it would be the most use we’d ever get out of our admiral in charge of equity and diversity, which, sadly, exists.

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