Still, as Admiral Johnson explained "We cannot sacrifice today's readiness and ability to safeguard interests as the Navy invests in technologies, systems, and platforms to achieve its future vision. Maintaining the presence of highly capable naval expeditionary forces in key regions is the most effective means to prevent conflict and ensure stability and peace."
Increased Ops and Challenges
Throughout the Cold War, and at increasing rates since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Navy-Marine Corps team has undertaken a broad spectrum of peacetime, crisis-response, and combat missions. During the Cold War, the Navy and Marine Corps responded to some 190 international crises (excluding the Korean and Vietnam Wars—on the average about one crisis response operation every 11 weeks. From 1990 to 1997, the Navy and Marine Corps were called upon to respond to crises and combat in nearly 80 instances approximately one operation every four weeks. In 1998, that period was reduced even further: one crisis response every three weeks. Worryingly, in light of the constrained resources confronting the naval services, such high-tempo, worldwide operations are unlikely to abate in the future.
The challenges will remain daunting, as routine global commitments and crisis responses tax the Navy's people, platforms, and equipment. "On any given day," the CNO is proud to note, "approximately one-third of our forces are deployed overseas, with another 20% or so under way from home ports. Naval expeditionary forces are `on-scene,' operating day in and day out, in each of the major deployment regions—the Mediterranean Sea, Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean, Western Pacific, and Caribbean." On average last year, more than 50,000 American men and women in some 120 ships operated in forward areas in defense of important U.S. interests. "Our Sailors help to keep the peace and are ready to respond wherever they are needed," Admiral Johnson said emphatically.
Looking at the numbers, doubt is growing about the Navy's ability to accomplish these many missions. Five years ago, according to Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Resources, Warfare Requirements, and Assessments (N8), about 42% of the Navy's ships were under way at any time. In 1998, the figure was close to 55%, and the trend threatens to break a key operational tempo goal—that a ship not spend more than half of any five-year period at sea. "That's a Navy running at full-bore," Admiral Lautenbacher underscored. "There's no more slack. We're deploying ships and squadrons about as fast as we can without breaking . . . people, parts, or training. It puts a real premium on every unit being ready to do its part," he concluded.
The Navy experienced a recruiting shortfall of 6,892 sailors last year, which spawned a $12 million increase in the service's recruitment budget. The early returns were heartening: "We are getting back on track," Rear Admiral Barbara McGann, Commander, Navy Recruiting Command, reported in early 1999, "but there is still hard work to do."
The problem of not bringing in enough people to fill training pipelines was exacerbated by growing retention shortfalls, as the Secretary of the Navy's 1999 Posture Statement explained. For example, enlisted first-term retention during 1998 was approximately 32% for the Navy, which is about 6% below the retention level to support a steady-state Navy force level. Officer retention likewise experienced challenges in key skill areas.
Navy pilot retention decreased to 39% in fiscal year 1997 and further declined to 32% in 1998. The Navy expects this trend to continue for the foreseeable future, and pilot retention already falls short of the 35% aggregate level required to fill critical department head and flight leader positions. Naval flight officer retention also is declining, with aggregate retention at the end of 1998 at the minimally acceptable level of 38%. While continuation of these mid-level officers represents Naval Aviation's greatest retention challenge, there also was an increase in resignations of more senior aviators, particularly because of intense competition from private industry.
Fiscal year 1998 retention for submarine officers was 27% and 21% for nuclear-trained surface warfare officers (SWOs), which currently is adequate because of post-Cold War downsizing. However, nuclear officer accessions and retention remain below the required level to sustain the future force structure. Retention rates must improve to 38% for submarine officers and 24% for nuclear trained surface warfare officers by fiscal year 2001 to meet steady manning requirements. The increase must be even greater in the not-too-distant future (as several key submarine leaders are now beginning to advocate openly) if submarine force levels are allowed to grow beyond the 50 SSNs mandated by the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review.
Despite a large reduction in the number of ships since the Cold War "high water mark" in the mid-1980s, the surface warfare officer community experienced difficulty retaining enough senior lieutenants and junior lieutenant commanders to meet department head requirements. In 1998, retention in the SWO community was 25% against a manning retention requirement of 38%. Retention shortfalls even have hit the naval special warfare (NSW/SEAL) community. Historically, NSW/SEAL officer retention was among the highest in the Navy. Since 1996, however, the annual number of resignations has risen dramatically, and SEAL retention rate at the critical seven-year point fell to 58.2% from historical levels of greater than 80%.
During the past few years, reduced force levels offset partially the adverse impact of Navy officer community shortages that, however, were exacerbated by the high-tempo of operations. At the end of 1998, the Navy needed to fill more than 22,000 vacancies throughout the fleet, prompting Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig to comment, "I'm pressing for us to invest more in treating Sailors and Marines as valued professionals.... But we're wearing ourselves thin." Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Admiral Dan Oliver noted that about 140 sailors each month were being "cross-decked" from one ship returning from deployment to another ship getting ready to deploy, where their skills were needed—the early signs of "hollowness."
Ships, aircraft, and weapon systems are kept ready through planned maintenance and modernization programs. Navy funding to upgrade weapons and systems fell more than 50% between 1990 and 1998. The Navy's critical backlog of maintenance and repair at the end of 1998 was $2.4 billion and expected to exceed $2.9 billion by fiscal year 2003. Aging and obsolescent equipment requires more frequent repairs, causing longer and more frustrating workdays, and resulting in lowered readiness. Carrier air wing readiness, for example, is at its lowest level since the mid-1980s. Approximately $1.3 billion per year (as compared to $961 million in fiscal 1999) is required to arrest the growth in the backlog of maintenance and repairs and attain command-and-control readiness levels for all mission essential facilities by the end of the 2000-2005 Future Years Defense Plan.
In his late-September statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry H. Shelton admitted that U.S. "forces are showing increasing signs of serious wear" and that "the long-term health of the total force is in jeopardy." Likewise, Admiral Johnson told the Armed Services Committee that he was "disturbed about our long-term readiness as a service. Although we are able to deal with current threats within an acceptable level of risk, I am increasingly concerned about our mid-term and long-range unfunded requirements. Without sufficient resources to fund recapitalization and modernization, and to take care of our people and their families, we are buying today's readiness at the expense of tomorrow's."
Three's Not a Charm, Saddam!
As 1997 drew to a close, the Navy was ordered to bolster its presence in the Arabian Gulf in response to cross-border attacks by Iranian aircraft against Iranian rebel forces in southern Iraq and Iraqi Air Force operations that violated U.N. "no-fly" zones. President Clinton already had concluded that Iraq's Saddam Hussein would use the Iranian attacks as an excuse to challenge the "no-fly" zones that had been established in the aftermath of the Gulf War, as well as to block U.N. weapons inspections. That turned out to be the case, as Hussein increasingly frustrated UNSCOM's inspections. In November UNSCOM left Iraq, while diplomatic negotiations continued—albeit fortified by an impressive build up of U.S. and British forces in the region.
When this Gulf crisis ended in late February, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz cavalierly brushed aside American and British "saber-rattling" as having no affect on the outcome. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who brokered the memorandum of understanding on continuing and expanding the weapons inspections, knew better: "You can do a lot with diplomacy," he affirmed, "but you can do a lot more with diplomacy backed up with firmness and force." U.N. weapons inspections resumed the following month.
But in August, Iraq once again barred on-site inspections—although certain monitoring was allowed to continue. Discussions continued through October, when Iraq suspended all contacts with arms inspectors. The United States and Great Britain threatened air strikes, and began to move forces into the region. On 14 November—with B-52 bombers in the air, Navy aircraft on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) poised for takeoff, and TLAMs ready for launch from surface warships and submarines—within about 20 minutes of coming under attack, Saddam agreed to allow the U.N. monitors back in and all forces stood down. "We were pretty geared up," remembered F/A-18 Hornet pilot Lieutenant Matt Bartell, who was readying himself for his first real-world combat mission. "It was pretty frustrating."
Less than a month later, following UNSCOM revelations that Iraq had engaged in a repeated pattern of obstructing weapons inspections, and with an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives looming over his shoulder, President Clinton ordered a "strong, sustained series of air strikes" against Iraq on 16 December. "Iraq has abused its final chance," the President declared as Operation Desert Fox attacks were launched from seven surface warships, one nuclear attack submarine, and the U.S. carrier Enterprise (CVN-65)—marking the first time Navy women aviators engaged in actual combat. British Prime Minister Tony Blair immediately supported the President's decision, and committed 12 Kuwait-based Tornado fighter-bombers and 6 reconnaissance aircraft in Saudi Arabia to the operation.
The first night was an all-Navy affair. The Enterprise's aircraft in some cases flew three and four sorties, and about 250 TLAMs were launched from seven surface warships and one submarine on 1617 December. The next day another 100 or so TLAMs were used, bringing the two-day total to more than 325 TLAMs launched in four days, compared to 288 TLAMs launched during the entire 1991 Gulf War. The USS Gettysburg (CG-64), which arrived with nearly 100 TLAMs in her vertical-launch cells, nearly exhausted her load-out by the end of the second day. Following these attacks, Navy planners expressed privately concerns about TLAM inventories, expenditure rates, and new acquisition/replacements, issues that came to light during the Operation Allied Force strikes in Yugoslavia and Kosovo. Another 90 or so air-launched cruise missiles were fired from Air Force B-52 bombers. Reportedly, the critical missile initialization-launch transition to cruise phase of the TLAM attacks exceeded 80%. This success rate was even more impressive considering that one of the warships, the destroyer USS Stout (DDG-55) had never launched a TLAM before the crew received the order to fire on the first night of Desert Fox. "Before the strikes, there was a little apprehension among my Tomahawk strike team," Commander Dave Jackson, the Stout's commanding officer, admitted. "But the butterflies went away after the first missile left the rail. . . . It worked as advertised," Commander Jackson recounted. "Every missile flew true."
In addition to the ordnance delivered by 650 U.S. and British attack missions, U.S. aircraft also dropped thousands of leaflets on Iraqi positions in the south: "Your unit was not targeted but is being watched," the messages warned. "Do not challenge coalition forces. Stay in your positions to avoid attack."
The ultimate impact on Saddam Hussein and Iraqi intransigence toward U.N. sanctions remained unclear. Although some attacks clearly missed or did not destroy their intended targets, in large part the military objectives were achieved, according to U.S. spokespeople. Political goals were less certain, if for no other reason than ambiguity among U.S. decision makers. "The goal is not to destabilize the regime," Secretary of Defense William Cohen explained. "The goal is to decrease and diminish his capacity to threaten his neighbors" and to keep him from making or using weapons of mass destruction. "We intend to keep our forces on the ready," Cohen continued. "In the event he seeks to reconstitute again or threaten his neighbors, we will be prepared to take military action once again. So we intend to continue the containment policy." However, White House National Security Advisor Sandy Berger added a coda to this on 20 December, saying the United States will make a "deliberate, sustained" effort to overthrow Saddam.
In mid-June, as the situation in Yugoslavia deteriorated and fighting renewed between ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and Serbs under President Slobodan Milosevic, AV-8B Harriers from the USS Wasp (LHD-1) joined dozens of fighter-attack aircraft, radar-jamming planes, and aerial tankers from air bases across Italy. Dubbed Operation Determined Falcon, the demonstration of NATO sea- and land-based air power, according to Defense Secretary Cohen, was to convince the Yugoslav Serbian government to seek a cease-fire and halt all hostilities in Kosovo. Foreign ministers from eight countries had given Milosevic until 16 June to call off the ethnic cleansing. A demonstration of NATO air power was meant to show Milosevic that the Alliance meant what it said: Stop the killings or become targets yourselves. "Moves for further measures to halt the violence and protect the civilian population" would be forthcoming, the eight nation statement warned, "including those that may require the authorization of a U.N. Security Council resolution."
The Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, which included the USS Portland (LSD-37) and USS Trenton (LPD-14), had been in the Mediterranean since March. Before arriving in the Adriatic off Albania, the Wasp and the Portland had been in Antalya, Turkey, making ready to depart for Haifa, Israel, when Commander, Sixth Fleet, ordered the change in venue. The Wasp pulled out of her Turkish anchorage so fast that she left behind 40 sailors and Marines, who later embarked on the Portland , and made the 900-nautical mile transit in just 40 hours.
In reality, most of the 11-nation airpower demonstration on 14 June did not come close to Yugoslav airspace. The 80-plane NATO "air-mada" funneled through Albanian airspace and flew toward an erstwhile Warsaw Pact target range in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, no closer than ten miles from the Kosovo-Macedonia border. That said, "this is just the air part," Marine Corps Brigadier General Emerson Gardner, commanding officer of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) noted. "What they have to understand is that we've got Tomahawks, ground forces, the whole gamut."
But "the whole gamut" did not impress the warring factions. At year's end, following another six months of killings and frustrated negotiations, the issue seemed no closer to settlement, so long as Milosevic remained in power. While diplomats droned on, 1,200 unarmed "monitors" moved into Macedonia, Sigonella-based Navy P-3 Orions began conducting daily surveillance missions over Kosovo, and NATO continued to threaten strikes unless a European brokered peace deal was put in place. Ironically, neither Yugoslavs nor the Kosovars appeared to want to back down, and NATO—
despite the demonstration of power—merely looked on. On 23 March 1999, NATO finally made good on its threats to use force if negotiations failed, and commenced strikes on Yugoslav military targets.
When bombs exploded outside the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on 7 August, they did more than kill some 200 people—including 12 Americans—and injure more than 1,100 others. They brought out of the shadows a well orchestrated and financed network of terrorist cells coordinated by Osman bin Laden, a multimillionaire Saudi Arabian dissident. And they showed just how vulnerable U.S. embassy and consular facilities remained some 15 years after the car-bomb attack against the Marine headquarters in Beirut. In the immediate aftermath, a 40-man Marine Corps security team was the first reinforcement to arrive in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, flown to the scene on board Naval Reserve aircraft. Thirteen days later, after receiving intelligence reports linking bin Laden's terrorist camps in Afghanistan and pharmaceutical complex in Khartoum, Sudan, President Clinton ordered Navy Tomahawk-armed warships into action.
"Our objective was to damage their capacity to strike Americans and other innocent people," President Clinton stated on 20 August after the strikes were carried out. Navy surface warships and submarines in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea launched six TLAMs against the suspected chemical weapons facility in Khartoum, Sudan, and more than 70 missiles at terrorist training facilities in eastern Afghanistan, killing at least 11 people and wounding more than 50. "I think we've done some considerable damage to the camps," National Security Advisor Sandy Berger announced the next day, a judgment confirmed by reporters and CNN. Two of the camps were destroyed, according to a group of reporters who counted 20 craters up to 40 feet wide and 20 feet deep at one of the camps. More problematic were the strikes against the Khartoum pharmaceutical complex, which was heavily damaged, if only because of the uncertain links to bin Laden and actual chemical weapons production.
Although opinion was divided about the ultimate value of the strikes—retired Army Lieutenant General William Odom of the Hudson Institute sniffed that "It takes four missiles to get one kill. Not very cost-effective. ...—others saw it differently. Retired Major General Charles Link, a former Assistant Deputy Air Force Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations concluded, "I think any time we can carry out an objective with cruise missiles, that's the thing to do. I think most airmen would agree to that," Link continued. "As long as the Navy is equipped to do this, as long as cruise missiles are capable of carrying out the mission, more power to 'em."
The Navy came to the aid of victims of natural disasters in both Kenya and Italy, assisting in those countries after severe rain and mudslides ravaged several areas. Closer to home, Navy and Marine Reservists coordinated disaster relief efforts for Hurricane Georges in Puerto Rico and Hurricane Mitch in Central America. Among other Navy units:
- The Norfolk-based USS Bataan (LHD-5) deployed to Puerto Rico in October to support Operation Fundamental Relief, the ship's first operational mission. Some 750 Marines, nearly 100 additional sailors, and a small number of Army soldiers combined forces with the Bataan's 970 crew members. The Bataan served as a command center and logistics "hub" for on-shore operations, as well as an airport for helicopter missions.
- An air detachment of 125 Seabees from Naval Construction Battalion 7 based in Gulf Port, Mississippi, deployed on 7 November to Honduras in support of the international relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Mitch, which killed more than 10,000 people in the region, destroyed communications, and wiped out roads. Its mission was to conduct engineering reconnaissance, repair or replace roads and bridges, clear debris, and construct base camps for relief workers.
- Fleet Logistics Squadron VR-54, based at NAS New Orleans, Louisiana, delivered some 40,000 pounds of much needed relief supplies and food to Managua, Nicaragua, in November. The materials were provided by the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which has carried on a mission of international emergency response and famine relief since 1940.
- In a grim reprise of the TWA Flight 800 tragedy, the USS Grapple (ARS-53) and members of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 arrived off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, on 9 September to assist the Canadian government in the recovery of victims and salvage of wreckage from the Swissair Flight ll II disaster. The Grapple provided the on-site recovery operation with a command-and-control capability, logistics support, and a lift capacity of 300 tons. The divers' Mark 21 diving system allowed safe and efficient operations in waters as deep as 190 feet.
In addition, the Navy-Marine Corps team answered the call for assistance after wildfires in Florida, severe floods in Georgia, and devastating tornadoes in Pennsylvania left thousands of American citizens in need.
Experiments and Innovations
The Navy continued to pursue a comprehensive process to improve its ability to execute both traditional and nontraditional missions. The newly created Navy Warfare Development Command, Maritime Battle Center, and the Marine Corps Combat Development Command further developed future warfare doctrine and concepts. A series of Navy Fleet Battle Experiments (FBEs)—initiated in 1997 and continued into 1998—tested new doctrine, provided insights into the utility of new technologies, explored new operational capabilities, and tested ideas for future application. In 1997, for example, the U.S. Third Fleet successfully tested an early prototype of the "Ring of Fire" concept during FBE Alpha, held in conjunction with the Marine Corps Hunter Warrior Advanced Warfighting Experiment. In FBE Bravo, later in 1997, the Third Fleet expanded the concept to include tactical aircraft and land-based Marine artillery units. Bravo also demonstrated the Ring's ability to receive data from external sources, such as Air Force JSTARS surveillance aircraft. Fleet Battle Experiments continue at an approximate rate of two per year, with continued focus on developing network-centric capabilities, increasingly in forward-area joint operational environments.
The first such forward-area experiment, FBE Delta, was conducted during October and November 1998 in conjunction with Foal Eagle '98, a joint and combined theater campaign-level exercise. The Delta experiments included the most futuristic test yet of theater combined-arms coordination, using E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, nuclear submarines, surface warships, multiservice Special Operations Forces (SOF), and Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft. The objective was to address specific theater concerns: counter-SOF, counterfire, and joint theater air defense.
The Navy's SmartShip and SmartBase are another two initiatives intended to foster wide-ranging innovation and enhanced readiness. Faced with still-constrained fiscal resources, plummeting force levels from nearly 600 ships in the mid-1980s to at most 305 in 2005, increasing worldwide commitments and operational tempos, and shortfalls in recruiting as the U.S. economy competes for the best and brightest of America's youth, the Navy's SmartShip program has continued to identify the most promising labor-saving technologies available. These technologies will be back-fit into existing ships and forward-fit into future designs, saving manpower funds and allowing a greater proportion of crews to focus on war fighting. When perhaps as much as 60% of a ship's life-cycle/total ownership costs can be attributed to its crew in one way or another (25% to payroll alone), even modest reductions in manning could free not only funds but also valuable internal ship volume and space.
Following several years of test and evaluation with the USS Yorktown (CG-48), at the end of the year the Navy's SmartShip innovators were convinced that the various initiatives could save 44 enlisted and two officer billets in each Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class Aegis cruiser, generating a total direct, indirect, and logistics-support cost-savings of $2 million per ship per year, at a cost of $23 million for all workload reducing initiatives. For the 27 Aegis cruisers that might ultimately receive the SmartShip installations, this could generate some $1.4 billion in life-cycle cost-avoidance during their remaining service lives, savings that could be reallocated to meet other pressing needs. The SmartShip approach is also shaping the Navy's programs for future aircraft carriers, destroyers, and amphibious assault warships. The Navy's CVNX program looks to a one-third reduction in crew size, while a truly revolutionary approach is being embraced by the DD-21 Land-Attack Destroyer program, which seeks a maximum crew size of 95 people in a 12,000-plus ton warship.
Such innovation moved ashore last year. The Navy's SmartBase program solicits industry, academia, and government agencies for innovative, state-of-the-market technologies and business practices that will boost shore installation efficiency. Two key enablers are the SmartLink and SmartCard. SmartLink established a state-of-the-market, wide-area network of major Navy installations. Planned to provide connectivity to 300 sites at completion, SmartLink in late 1998 provided voice, video, and data to more than 80 sites on the Navy's Intranet, at significant savings. The Navy SmartCard Project starts at the Great Lakes Recruit Training Center. This computer-chip card is issued to each recruit to facilitate laborious administrative processes. There already are significant cost savings, with a clear potential for additional savings as more applications are introduced. Another proposal calls for the development of a "quality of life" credit card that would enable sailors and their families to receive discounts on food and staples no matter where purchased, similar to the savings at base commissaries.
Another innovative approach to meeting the nation's security requirements in the most cost-effective manner was unveiled by the 21 September 1998 watershed Joint Navy/Coast Guard Policy Statement on the National Fleet. Signed by Admiral Johnson and Admiral James M. Loy, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, this policy represents a far-reaching sea change in the way the two sea services will serve America. Moreover, it recognizes the broad contributions that the Coast Guard can make to U.S. maritime security.
The policy commits the Navy and the Coast Guard to a "shared purpose and common effort focused on tailored operational integration of our multimission platforms." This close partnership calls for the Navy and the Coast Guard to work together to build a National Fleet of multimission surface warships and maritime security cutters. The Navy and the Coast Guard recognize that, in order to meet the challenges of the next century, they must deploy forces with greater flexibility, adaptability, and affordability. Particularly at the "low end" of the spectrum of crisis and conflict, where the bulk of U.S. security responsibilities are engaged, a combined and interoperable force will ensure numerical sufficiency desired for effective global operations.
As currently envisioned, the National Fleet will have two principal attributes. First, it will comprise surface warships and major cutters that are "affordable, adaptable, interoperable, and with complementary capabilities," according to the Policy Statement. Second, whenever appropriate, the National Fleet will be designed around common equipment and systems, and will embrace coordinated operational planning, training, and logistics. The Navy's contribution will be highly capable, sophisticated, multimission surface warships optimized for naval operations from peacetime engagement through major theater war. The Coast Guard's contribution will be highly capable, sophisticated, multimission maritime security cutters optimized for all Coast Guard humanitarian, civilian law enforcement, and defense missions in peacetime and crisis response situations. These advanced cutters also will fill the requirement for relatively small, general-purpose, shallow-draft warships. Importantly, all ships and aircraft of the National Fleet will be interoperable to provide force depth for all roles, missions, and tasks that may be thrust upon the Navy and Coast Guard in the years ahead.
Odds & Ends
On 4 May, then-Secretary of the Navy John Dalton signed the donation contract that officially transferred the historic battleship Missouri (BB-63) to the USS Missouri Memorial Association of Honolulu. The battleship arrived at Pearl Harbor later in the summer to begin conversion to a museum/memorial ship, anchored next to the USS Arizona (BB-39).
Culminating a vigorous debate, during which five of the ship's former commanding officers called for caution, the Chief of Naval Operations decided not to allow the USS Constitution to undertake an open-sea voyage from Boston to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, during the summer. Although an engineering assessment indicated that the ship was seaworthy, "As much as we would all like to see `Old Ironsides' under sail on the high seas, I have a responsibility to protect the ship," CNO Admiral Johnson stated. "I simply cannot justify the risk of unexpected weather harming this national treasure."
The Navy announced that it would pull out of its McMurdo Sound base in Antarctica. The 42-year tradition of Navy support to the National Science Foundation's research program ended on 18 February 1998 with the last flight of an Antarctic Development Squadron 6 (VXE-6) "Puckered Penguins" LC-130 aircraft. VXE's first flight came on 31 October 1956, with a C-47 Gooney Bird. During its last flying season, VXE-6 flew 364 sorties and carried 2,811 passengers, nearly 4.1 million tons of cargo, and more than a quarter-million gallons of fuel. The Navy's duties were assumed by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, which also became the only organization in the world flying ski-equipped Hercules aircraft.
The oldest and smallest carrier in the force, USS Independence (CV-62) turned over the Western Pacific Watch to the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) on 18 July. Lieutenant Brent Johnson, of VAW-115 "Liberty Bells," marked the carrier's last cat shot and arrested landing, piloting an E-2C Hawkeye that came to a rest at 1415 on 16 July. Later, the "Indy" steamed to Puget Sound and the Navy's ship graveyard.
In late summer 1998, the surface nuclear Navy came to an end. The nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser California (CGN-36) was deactivated in a 28 August ceremony in Bremerton, Washington. Her sister ship South Carolina (CGN-37) survived about a week longer, her deactivation in Norfolk delayed by Hurricane Bonnie until 4 September. In between these two events, the nuclear Navy celebrated 50 years of nuclear power. A ceremony held at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., commemorated the establishment of the Nuclear Power Branch in August 1948, with Captain Hyman G. Rickover as the plankowner director.
Five women took command of warships between June 1998 and January 1999, the first in the Navy's history: Commander Maureen Farrier, USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39); Commander Ann O'Connor, USS La Moure County (LST-1194); Commander Michelle Howard, USS Carter Hall (LSD-50); Commander Kathleen McGrath, USS Jarrett (FFG-33); and Commander Grace Mehl, USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44). Also a Navy first, Captain Deborah Loewer took command of the deep-draft fast combat support ship, the USS Camden (AOE-2).
Global presence, global ops, ready for combat. But the signs of fraying and hollowness became increasingly apparent during 1998. Cross-decking of spare parts, weapons, and people continued apace, exacerbated by funding shortages, missed recruitment and accession targets, and retention shortfalls. Nevertheless, the Navy managed to carry out its many jobs, somehow. But it was refreshing to hear from the Chief of Naval Operations in September how difficult it was getting to be to do so.
Dr. Truver is Executive Director of the Center for Security Strategies and Operations, Techmatics, in Arlington, Virginia. He thanks Mr. Thomas Schoene of the Center’s Expeditionary Warfare Program staff, who provided research assistance for this article.