The Washington Times on January 15, 2013, published a comment by Admiral James A. Lyons Jr. the underpinning of American global power. One of the key elements, Admiral Lyons pointed out is its power-projection capability. Excerpts below:
That capability is centered on the Navy’s ability to deploy and maintain maritime superiority at point of entry wherever required. Central to that capability is the Navy’s potent war-fighting capability, represented by its carrier strike groups. In any crisis situation, the first question from the White House is:
Where are the carriers? However, the Navy now has only nine aircraft carriers available for deployment or power-projection missions.
Extending the deployment time by 50 percent places a tremendous strain on our ships, on the carrier air wing and, most of all, on our personnel. In an all-volunteer force, this can be a key factor. Required planned maintenance is being deferred, which eventually will affect the Navy’s overall readiness. About 50 ships currently have deferred major overhauls. The Navy has shrunk to about 287 ships. To put that number into perspective, that is about the number of ships I had under my command of the Pacific Fleet.
With these reduced numbers, it is understandable why the Navy is having difficulty meeting the Obama administration’s requirement to maintain a two carrier strike group presence in the Middle East.
The fundamental problem is that the numerous missions with which the Navy has been tasked require a force of about 350 ships, a point made eloquently by Seth Cropsey, a deputy undersecretary of the Navy under President Reagan. However, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert said the Navy plans to increase its number of ships only to 292 by 2020. This number is understandable. Facing severe budget cuts, the Navy can support only an anemic shipbuilding program, which makes it questionable whether it could reach the force of 292 ships, let alone the 350 ships required.
Regretfully, we have fallen into the same trap as we did under the Carter administration, keeping two carrier strike groups boring holes in the North Arabian Sea in order to be ready to respond to any Iranian provocation.
As a matter of principle, potential enemies always should be kept off-balance. Forces need to remain unpredictable. This is particularly true for carrier strike groups. We do not accomplish that by keeping two carrier strike groups on what appears to be a static geographic location. This is because our potential enemies — in this case, Iran — and our regional allies get used to seeing them steam around in circles. When this happens, we lose the impact of having a carrier present with its deterrent effects and instead become part of the background.
To keep pressure on and raise the level of deterrence, movement of naval forces, particularly carrier strike groups, must remain unpredictable.
…The Navy should be provided relief now on the two-carrier commitment to the Middle East. Further, flexibility of operations on deployed carrier strike groups should be instituted now so that their deployments can remain as unpredictable as possible, thereby remaining potent forces for deterrence or power-projection capability, ready to respond to a crisis situation when called upon.
Navy Adm. James A. Lyons Jr., now retired, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.