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.