Charting a Course: Mattis, Get Hot!

By Captain Kevin S. Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

In response to those CoCom requests, and insufficient forces notwithstanding, the Navy responds aggressively, even if that aggression fosters the seeds of further disaster. This begs two questions. First, why do we have so few ships in service? Second, regarding the CoComs’ demand signals, what is wheat and what is chaff?

In May 2016, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong, in which he “committed to helping build the maritime capacity of the Vietnamese Coast Guard and Navy.” Recently it was announced that the United States would be sending the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) to a port visit in Vietnam. All this pertains to sending a political signal to China, but it is difficult to see how it helps to mitigate over-tasking. Ultimately, the operational slack left by the Carl Vinson ’s removal from the playing field must be taken up by other ships that are already too busy.

The situation is similar, though on a much larger scale, with the jewel in the crown of the Navy’s interaction with foreign navies: the Rim of the Pacific (RimPac) Exercise. RimPac is the world’s largest international naval exercise, taking place in June and July of even-numbered years. In 2016, 23 U.S. ships participated. While at-sea interaction with RimPac participants—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, France, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Tonga, and the United Kingdom—may be a great thing, diplomatically speaking, in terms of enhancing the warfighting readiness of U.S. ships, it is of decidedly less value. Once again, other ships are forced to fill the real-world hole left by U.S. RimPac participants.

Is the United States determined to keep trying to do the same tasks today, with 277 ships, that it did in 1989 with 589 ships? How “important” is that port visit? What is the “utility” of exercises such as Talisman Saber? Certainly the Navy has long been an important element of the nation’s diplomacy, but if given a choice between contributing to international relations and maintaining genuine warfighting readiness, which should yield?

The Secretary of Defense can aid this process by initiating a review of CoComs’ force requests to determine what is essential and what can be put on hold pending a dramatic increase in fleet size.

Captain Eyer served in seven cruisers, commanding three Aegis cruisers: the USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51), Shiloh (CG-67), and Chancellorsville (CG-62).



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