U.S. Navy (Michael Bevan)
In the early morning of 1 October 2016, a Chinese-design, Iran-provided C-802 land-launched missile struck the United Arab Emirates-leased high-speed vessel Swift. The unarmed, all-aluminum Swift was under way in the Red Sea, north of the Bab-el Mandeb Strait, when the missile’s armor-piercing warhead tore into the bow, rendering the ship a catastrophic loss. Immediate suspicion focused on the Yemeni Houthi rebel group that is allied with Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
Although accounts remain sketchy, on 9 October Houthi rebels launched two C-802 missiles against the U.S. Aegis guided-missile destroyer Mason (DDG-87), in company with the Aegis destroyer Nitze (DDG-94) and the forward-staging base Ponce (AFSB-15). Then, on 11 October, Houthi rebels launched a third C-802 missile. The Mason reportedly fired Standard SM-2 and Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles in an effort to intercept the C-802s, as well as deploying Nulka radar decoys and other “soft-kill” defenses.
The USS San Antonio (LPD-17) also came under attack as she transited the Bab el-Mandeb in October. “The transit was challenging and missiles were launched against the Mason and San Antonio. Our crew performed flawlessly in the defense of our ship,” the Mason’s commanding officer Captain Darren Nelson posted on the ship’s Facebook page. None of the C-802s found their targets. The Mason and Nitze launched Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles that destroyed three Houthi-controlled radar sites ashore.
These incidents underscore the dangers of a proliferating antiship missile threat. “It makes the Navy very concerned, and it reminds them that ships are vulnerable,” Bryan Clark, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, commented in a 1 February 2017 Navy Times interview. “They are easy to identify, and they operate in close proximity to threats. It puts a premium on being able to defend yourself on very short notice.”
Naval analyst and author of the Naval Institute’s Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet Norman Polmar provides important context:
Western naval leaders were shocked on 21 October 1967, when, from the shelter of Alexandria harbor, Egyptian missile boats launched four Soviet guided missiles to sink the Israeli destroyer Eilat steaming offshore. Three of the missiles—designated Styx and SS-N-2 by U.S./NATO navies—struck the destroyer, and the fourth missile detonated close to where the destroyer had sunk.
This was the first time that surface-to-surface missiles had sunk a ship. The sinking of Eilat forced Western navies to accelerate the development and deployment of defensive measures—active and passive—to defeat antiship missiles.
More than a score of different antiship missile types are in service around the world in 2017, from the U.S.-developed Harpoon cruise missile with a range of approximately 60 nautical miles to the Chinese DF-21D ballistic missile with a range estimated by some sources at almost 2,000 nautical miles. Cruise missiles can be launched from aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and shore positions. Most carry conventional warheads with a few also being capable of delivering nuclear munitions.
While antiship missiles are becoming increasingly worrisome, naval mines have also continued to focus the Navy’s attention. Potential U.S. adversaries in early 2017 are estimated to have about 386,000 naval mines––China approximately 80,000, Iran 6,000, North Korea 50,000, and Russia 250,000. The global threat includes more than a million sea mines of more than 300 types in the inventories of more than 50 navies worldwide. The Navy’s experience underscores the lethality of the threat. Of the 19 U.S. Navy ships that have been seriously damaged or sunk by enemy action since the end of World War II, 15 were mine victims.
So it came as little surprise when in February 2017 the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) issued an alert, warning about the risk of mines in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait––reminiscent of Libya’s mining of the Red Sea in the 1984 “Mines of August” crisis. There was apparently good intelligence that led the Navy to conclude Houthi rebels laid mines in Yemen’s territorial waters in the southeastern Red Sea. According to Al Arabiya, Saudi and Yemeni naval engineers cleared Iranian-made mines that Houthi militias planted with technical help from Iranian and Hezbollah experts.
Currents swept some mines out to sea so coalition forces searched for and removed them to protect fishermen and oil tankers in international waters. At least one mine detonated, killing and injuring several fishermen. ONI indicated that the Navy would “deploy all needed efforts to protect the freedom of ships.”
Freedom of Navigation
In October 2016, the USS Decatur (DDG-73) Aegis guided-missile destroyer sailed close by China-occupied features near Triton Island and Woody Island in the Paracel Islands chain, which are also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan. Although the destroyer did not sail within 12 nautical miles of either feature, clearly it was intent on challenging China’s excessive maritime claims as part of a freedom-of-navigation operation (FONOP), according to Ankit Pada (The Diplomat, 22 October 2016).
The operation was the fourth U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea since December 2015 and the first since the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, in a case between the Philippines and China, found China’s audacious nine-dash line claim in the South China Sea invalid. On 10 May, the USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) sailed within 12 nautical miles of Fiery Cross Reef.
Pentagon spokesman Commander Gary Ross explained in USNI News that the Decatur “conducted this transit in a routine, lawful manner without ship escorts and without incident on October 21… specifically in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, to uphold the rights and freedoms of all States under international law, as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention…. The United States conducts these routine operations on a regular basis around the world, in full compliance with international law.”
“This transit appears to be an excellent challenge to China’s unlawful straight baselines around the Paracel Islands. There was no need in this case to transit within 12 nm of any individual island because China claims illegal straight baselines that encircle the entire island group,” James Kraska, a professor of international law, oceans law and policy at the U.S. Naval War College’s Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, told USNI News. “The Decatur’s surface operations in this instance provide an unambiguous legal record that China’s purported straight baselines are not valid.”
“The U.S. Navy will continue to conduct routine and lawful operations around the world, including in the South China Sea, in order to protect the rights, freedoms and lawful uses of sea and airspace guaranteed to all. This will not change,” Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said during a trip to China in July.
But how much presence is needed or available was uncertain last year. Although the Navy has sought to stage FONOPs regularly in the South China Sea, an unusually long period of time—164 days—elapsed between the Lawrence’s FONOP in May and the Decatur’s October transit. The previous South China Sea FONOPs were separated by 95 and 105 days.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis signaled a potential change in the Navy’s plans during a visit to Japan. “China has shredded the trust of nations in the region,” he said in press conference on 4 February. “Freedom of navigation is absolute, and whether it be commercial shipping or our U.S. Navy, we will practice in international waters and transit international waters as appropriate.”
Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam all have rival claims in the South China Sea, but Beijing’s is the largest. And this calls out for recognition of the global dimension to U.S. Navy FONOPs. As outlined in the DoD 2016 Annual Report, “13 of the 22 countries challenged were in East Asia or South Asia, a region of growing economies, rising nationalism, and complex island territories. Just four were in Europe, two in the Persian Gulf (Iran and Oman), two in the Americas (Brazil and Venezuela), and one in North Africa (Tunisia)…. Twelve of the 22 countries’ claims were challenged multiple times….”
On 30 December 2016, FoxNews reported: “For the next week, not only will there be no U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in the Middle East, but there will be no American aircraft carriers deployed at sea anywhere else in the world, despite a host of worldwide threats facing the United States.” The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and accompanying warships had returned to Norfolk that day, completing a seven-month deployment––to the Arabian Gulf and Mediterranean––a month longer than planned. The Ike’s relief, the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77), was delayed in the shipyard because of constrained Navy maintenance resources. Revised plans called for the Bush to be on scene in early 2017. But, if the Bush had left the shipyard on time, she would have relieved “skin to skin” the Ike in the Gulf or the Mediterranean.
In addition to fighting the Islamic State and other terrorist forces, the Bush’s commanding officer, Captain William Pennington, explained that the strike group would be ready to deal with a resurgent Russia or China. “While we don’t have any emergent or pending conflicts with them, certainly, it is fair to say that we have divergent interests in many cases. And so we need to be prepared to understand how we will react.”
In the meantime, to cover for the three-week 2016–17 aircraft carrier gap in the Gulf, Navy officials noted that there was a large-deck amphibious assault ship with almost 2,000 Marines on board along with their helicopters, Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, and Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing fixed-wing aircraft. In December 2016 elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit conducted air strikes against targets in Sirte, Libya, from the amphibious assault ship Wasp (LHD-1), part of Operation Odyssey Lightning, to support Libyan Government of National Accord-aligned forces. The Wasp amphibious ready group had “chopped” to the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean in August.
Early last fall there was also a short gap in carrier presence in the Middle East when the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) returned to San Diego. This was the first time since 2007 that the Middle East was devoid of a U.S. flattop. But that was compensated by the deployment in September 2016 of the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Eastern Mediterranean to carry out operations in Syria and later to the Gulf to support the international coalition’s anti-terrorist missions. In October French President Francois Hollande extended the carrier’s deployment by two months until early 2017 to help liberate Mosul.
Contrast this regional gap with the global situation: “For the first time in nearly four years, the U.S. Navy has four aircraft carrier strike groups deployed at the same time,” Navy Times reported in July 2016. “Two more carriers are carrying out local operations, making for six of the fleet’s ten active carriers underway—an unusually high percentage. And another is preparing to go.”
The Navy Times report, “The departure June 4 of the USS Ronald Reagan [CVN-76] from Yokosuka, Japan, coupled with the June 1 deployment of the Dwight D. Eisenhower group from the U.S. East Coast, doubled the number of deployed groups…. The Harry S. Truman is in the eastern Mediterranean conducting combat strikes against terrorist targets in Syria and Iraq, and the John C. Stennis (CVN-74) group is continuing operations in the South China Sea.”
At this time the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and USS George Washington (CVN-73) were working up off the West and East coasts, respectively. In mid-2016, the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) was in overhaul at Bremerton, Washington; the Theodore Roosevelt was in lower readiness at San Diego, having returned from deployment in November 2015; and the Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was at Newport News, Virginia, in the later stages of a three-year refueling and complex overhaul.
The last time four strike groups were deployed simultaneously was over a nine-week period from late August 2012 to early November 2012. During the 43-day Desert Storm air war, six carriers carried out operations from the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf: the USS Midway (CV-41); Saratoga (CV-60); Ranger (CV-61); America (CV-66); John F. Kennedy (CV-67); and Theodore Roosevelt.
The John C. Stennis had operated exclusively in the western Pacific since beginning its deployment in mid-January 2016. A Navy official was quoted by Navy Times as saying, “We’re trying to not be too provocative. . . .” But we’re working to get used to operating in close proximity to a close competitor navy. It was an important learning experience for us to get used to operating in a competitive environment. The last time we did this was in the 1990s. . . . We’ve learned a lot—what can you do and not do in this environment—and that goes into the planning factors. . . . The entire strike group—carrier, air wing and escort ships––have all done very well. And by all anecdotes the Chinese have done well also. The communications have been professional. It’s been a learning experience for both navies.”
Readiness Crisis Is “Normal”
The Navy continues to confront a readiness crisis that shows no sign of dissipating. Year-to-year declines in aviation readiness, ship and submarine overhauls and maintenance, and inefficient use of the shipyard workforce are rapidly becoming the new normal of naval operations. The crisis is being driven by the near-perfect storm generated by 15 years of wartime deployments combined with the lasting consequences imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act (sequestration) and Congress’ inability to pass yearly appropriations bills on time. Sequestration took more than $30 billion from the Navy’s accounts from 2013 to 2016, and the department has been operating on continuing resolution funding for much of the last six years.
The service’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget (in early April yet to be passed by Congress although the fiscal year began almost six months ago) represents a reduction of another $5 billion below the 2016 budget. “Continuing resolutions can also delay critical programs . . . the fiscal uncertainty sends ripples through the entire system,” CNO Admiral Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee in testimony last year. At least $2 billion of the $5 billion reduction will come from the Navy’s readiness accounts, service officials told Congress.
The Navy entered the new year with significant maintenance backlogs and funding shortfalls in almost every segment of the fleet, with readiness funding shortfalls totaling $1.7 billion. This backlog was most acute in naval aviation, where the air operations shortfall totaled $536 million, according to Navy budget documents submitted to Congress. In ship operations, the total was $251 million; ship maintenance was $593 million behind (resulting in 16 ships’ maintenance availabilities); information and combat support shortfalls totaled $333 million.
The continued budgetary uncertainty has stymied the Navy’s ability to climb out of the readiness hole created by sequestration, the impact of which fell most heavily on the service’s operations and maintenance accounts. Ship overhauls and maintenance availabilities were deferred, aviation maintenance backlogs mushroomed, and the support workforce was hit by layoffs, curtailed hiring, and pay freezes. Getting this finely tuned structure back into balance has proven to be a problem for shipyards and aviation depots that still face large backlogs of maintenance stemming from the onset of sequestration in 2013.
To jumpstart efforts to pull out of the current readiness bathtub, Defense Secretary James Mattis proposed a $30 billion readiness supplemental for FY 2017 funding. This plan has been submitted to Congress for approval, but other legislative priorities, including raising the government’s debt ceiling, approving nominations to judicial and defense positions, and debating how to fund the overall government beyond April 2017 have contrived to push off discussion of the readiness supplement until later this year—or at all.
“Within a month we are going to have to shut down air wings, we are going to defer maintenance on several availabilities for our surface ships and submarines,” Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, testified to the House Armed Services Committee in February 2017. Aviation shortfalls are impacting the force most significantly. Older F/A-18 A-D model Hornet strike fighters now require twice the man-hours to correct maintenance and repair issues than as originally envisioned. On any given day 25-30 percent of the Navy’s aviation fleet is offline undergoing some maintenance, and only 50 percent of the total aviation inventory is available for operations. Admiral Moran state, “We can and do put ready airplanes and ready aircrews forward, but there’s no depth on the bench behind them if we had to surge forces.”
LCS—A Way Ahead
Then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter upended the Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS)/frigate plan (revised by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in 2014), lobbing a bombshell memo directing the service to cap production at 40 ships, instead of the program’s long-established requirement for 52 ships. Carter also directed the Navy to down-select to only one shipyard to build a new frigate version beginning no later than 2019. Carter’s memo injected yet more turmoil and uncertainty into the program at a time when LCSs were entering the fleet at a rate of three or four a year. The Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Analysis reconfirmed the need for 52 small surface combatants in the future fleet. “I don’t see that number changing,” Vice Admiral Joseph Malloy, the Navy’s Integration, Capabilities and Resources chief, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Admiral Richardson also directed an LCS review in 2016, which was led by Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, head of the Navy’s Surface Forces, and rolled out in September. This review assessed crewing, operations, training, and maintenance for the entire LCS class and was guided by three overarching criteria—increase simplicity, stability, and ownership. “This is not a major revision. This is a course correction as we are gaining experience operating the ships forward,” Rowden told Defense News in September.
The review jettisoned the long-espoused 3-2-1 crewing concept for LCS in favor of a blue/gold model that has been used by the Navy’s submarine force for decades. Other changes included: organizing the LCS fleet into three divisions (with four ships in each division) operating from U.S. East and West coasts; assigning and equipping the surface warfare, antisubmarine warfare, or mine countermeasures mission to a particular ship; and creation of a test squadron comprising of the first four LCS ships.
As the Congress debated the Navy’s FY2017 budget request in 2016, the legislature rejected Carter’s decision and added an additional LCS (to make three) to the Navy’s shipbuilding request. However, Congress’ inability to pass a 2017 appropriations bill and the passage of yet another continuing resolution has slowed frigate risk-reduction efforts and injected instability into LCS shipyard production schedules. Fiscal Year 2018 budgets of the Trump administration have yet to be submitted to Congress, but the current shipbuilding plan envisioned funding for only one LCS.
Despite the budget uncertainty, the LCS program still scored several firsts during past year. Indeed, the program continues to grow and is gathering momentum as the fleet learns in more detail how to operate and use these warships to best advantage. The most significant event was the successful accomplishment of full ship shock trials (FSSTs) on both variants of LCS. The tests marked the first FSSTs conducted by the Navy since 2008 and made history by conducting two sets of trials in a single year.
The USS Jackson (LCS-6) conducted the first of three FSSTs off the Florida coast in June 2016 and successfully concluded the tests in July. The Jackson, an all-aluminum warship, put to rest concerns about the ability of aluminum ships to withstand shocks. The USS Milwaukee (LCS-5), the steel variant, successfully concluded its shock trials in September 2016.
LCS testing continued apace in 2016 with the USS Coronado (LCS-4) successfully demonstrating an over-the-horizon Harpoon antiship missile firing during the Rim of the Pacific exercise in June 2016. The ship then continued its deployment to the western Pacific with Harpoon missiles part of the ship’s offensive weapon package. The LCS program also conducted a successful structural test firing of the Longbow Hellfire missile as part of the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM) from the USS Detroit (LCS-7) in March 2017. The SSMM is expected to be operationally deployed in the Milwaukee in 2018.
The Zumwalt Promise
The Navy commissioned the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), arguably its most innovative warship to enter the fleet in decades, during an enormous ceremony held in Baltimore, Maryland, on 15 October 2016. Now home-ported in San Diego, much technical work still remains to be accomplished in fully installing the ship’s combat systems and beginning the long process to truly understand and wring out the warfighting potential of the three-ship class. In addition to building the Zumwalt, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works has under construction the other ships in the class. The Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) was christened at Bath in June 2016 with delivery to the Navy expected to occur later this year. The third ship, Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002), is tentatively scheduled for commissioning in 2018.
The list of technical innovations and capabilities inherent in the Zumwalt’s design, engineering, and combat systems is long and impressive. Starting with the ship’s wave-piecing tumblehome hull and stealth-enhancing silhouette, the 16,000-ton destroyer packs an array of new capabilities. While exceedingly large by destroyer standards, the 600-foot long warship will eventually deploy with a crew of less than 150 officers and sailors. The Zumwalt class is all about automation.
The Zumwalt is the first all-electric warship the Navy has ever constructed employing an Integrated Power System (IPS) architecture that enables a twin set of gas turbine prime movers to provide all the power required for the ship’s propulsion, services and combat systems: the IPS can produce a staggering 78 megawatts of power. This power opens the door to all sorts of future energy weapons to be deployed on this class of ships. The ship’s advanced gun system, a battery of two 155-mm guns, was expected to fire the long-range land attack projectile (LRLAP) to about 60 nautical miles. But the Navy is considering canceling production of the LRLAP because of its growing cost and looking at a less expensive Excalibur round. Combat systems installation is still continuing in San Diego, and the ship is not expected to begin operational testing for another two years.
The Zumwalt and her two sisters promise to provide significant warfighting capability to fleet commanders. Exactly what and how that potential unfolds is unknown today pending the completion of combat systems installation and future tests and deployments.
A Controversial Legacy
“When I took office,” then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recounted at his retirement ceremony on 6 January 2017, “our fleet was shrunken, our economy was in shambles, too soon we would face sequestration and a government shutdown. All dependency and price and supply shocks threatened operations and training and were literally costing us lives. Defective laws and antiquated personnel policies limited our abilities to attract and retain America’s most talented young people. All of this was happening, even as an increasingly complex and challenging world imposed ever-increasing demands on our naval forces. But today,” he underscored, “I am absolutely convinced that our Navy and Marine Corps are positioned for a future that is as brilliant and as noble as its past. Today’s Navy and Marine Corps are not only the best in the world, they’re the best the world has ever known.”
To say SecNav Mabus was controversial is to be polite. The 75th and longest-serving Navy Secretary since Josephus Daniels served 2,922 days under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1921, Mabus was President Obama’s sole SecNav. Mabus challenged the Navy and Marine Corps as he pressed to have all jobs open to women. This spawned an internal Marine Corps study that concluded the average woman was injured twice as often as the average man, was less accurate with infantry weapons, and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield. Dan Lamonth commented in the Washington Post, “Mabus dismissed those results within a day, saying the Marine Corps not only did not delineate how the highest performing women could do, and that he saw no reason to keep grueling jobs like the infantry closed to women.”
Mabus called for the Navy to rethink its energy programs and posture, with a goal to have 50 percent of the service’s power from non-petroleum sources by 2020. To showcase this, last year he deployed a “Great Green Fleet” that burned biofuels. Mabus also launched an ambitious project to exploit renewable sources such as solar and wind power.
Mabus was criticized widely for some of the names he chose for Navy ships. AP journalist Jennifer McDermott reported: “Why, critics questioned, would he name a ship in honor of the late gay rights leader Harvey Milk or after former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords when there are plenty of military heroes to choose from?” Retired Navy Vice Admiral Douglas Crowder said he did not think a ship should be named after Peyton Manning, either, “to take it to the ridiculous end state to make a point.” Mabus retorted he was honoring people who have shown heroism, and by looking outside the military for heroes, he can help connect people with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
There were other challenges to “the system,” including taking the “man” out of yeoman and engineman, requiring women at the Naval Academy to wear trousers rather than skirts at graduation, and significantly increasing paid maternity leave––all and more were controversial. Mabus was unrepentant, stating, “Despite all the obstacles, because of the work, the dedication, the commitment of the Sailors, Marines, civilians, our Navy and Marine Corps are far more capable, far better equipped to meet and master any event that comes over the horizon than the force that existed on that hot day in 2009 when I was sworn in.”
Chaos Begets Opportunity
Out of the chaos of the 2016 presidential election and the first 100 days of the Donald Trump administration, the Department of the Defense—but particularly the Navy—looks to be the winner in the Make America Strong “sweepstakes.” The DoD could receive an historic $54 billion increase in funding in fiscal year 2018 if the Congress antes up.
“My plan will build the 350-ship Navy we need,” Candidate Trump said in a 21 October speech. “This will be the largest effort at rebuilding our military since Ronald Reagan,” he continued, “and it will require a truly national effort.” The speech provided no details however. The only specific target mentioned by the Trump camp was to increase the aircraft carrier force from 11 to 12 nuclear-propelled ships.
In early 2017 the active fleet numbered about 275 ships, and the 30-year shipbuilding plan hoped to increase shipbuilding to provide a 308-ship force in 2021. Dr. Eric Labs of the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 30-year plan would cost about one-third more funding than was spent during the previous 30 years (Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2017 Shipbuilding Plan, February 2017). Significantly, if funding continued at the 30-year average, the Navy would be able to build about 75 fewer ships than it plans. Conversely, Dr. Labs cautioned that a 350-ship fleet could cost $25 billion per year, or 60 percent above the average during the past couple of decades.
The Navy’s own December 2016 Force Structure Analysis (FSA) called for a fleet of 355 ships. On 22 March, VCNO Admiral Moran noted that the Navy would need about $150 billion during the next seven years to “jump start” the expanded fleet. “But there isn’t yet a plan to build 350 (or 355) ships,” he explained. “The Navy’s updated FSA simply establishes the requirement, or justification, for a 355-ship fleet, but it does not lay out a plan for building it. Based on current defense strategy, mission requirements, and anticipated threats, the Assessment is independent of either budgetary or shipbuilding factors,” he continued. “The FSA will inform the Navy’s 2018 30-year Shipbuilding Plan, which will specify the type and quantities of ships it intends to build over the next three decades.”
There are other concerns in early 2017, including where to find the skilled workers to build the warships the President wants. Two big issues challenge the Navy in that regard: there are not enough skilled workers in the market today, and after years of historically low production, shipyards and their suppliers—including nuclear fuel producers—will struggle for years. Just to meet booked orders in 2017, for example, General Dynamic’s and Huntington Ingalls Industries––the largest U.S. shipbuilders––are planning to hire some 6,000 workers. Thousands more would be needed for the Trump fleet, confounded by the reality that it takes as long as seven years to train and certify critical trades.
Similarly, recruiting, training, and retaining skilled sailors look to be significant challenges in the years ahead, particularly if the U.S. economy surges. Competition with private industry for talented people thus could be the defining characteristic of the Navy in 2017–18.
President Xi Jinping Defies The Hague’s Ruling
On 12 July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rebuked China’s behavior in the South China Sea, including its construction of artificial islands, and found that its expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis. The main issue was the legality of China’s claim to waters within a “nine-dash line” that appears on Chinese maps and encircles some 90 percent of the South China Sea, an area the size of Mexico.
The Philippines asked the tribunal to find the claim to be in violation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China and the Philippines have ratified. The judges also ruled that China had violated international law by causing “severe harm to the coral reef environment” and by failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from harvesting endangered sea turtles and other species “on a substantial scale.”
In response President Xi Jinping was defiant, reasserting China’s claim to sovereignty over the South China Sea “since ancient times.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry declared the court’s decision “is invalid and has no binding force,” and “China does not accept or recognize it.”