In the popular imagination, a naval fleet is diminished by the loss of its ships in combat. Over the past quarter-century, three valiant efforts by the crews of U.S. Navy ships that suffered grievous damage in the Persian Gulf – the results of a missile attack, a mine, and a suicide bomber — prevented the loss of a U.S. naval combatant at the hands of an enemy. Such a loss still has not occurred since World War II.
However, there are two other ways to diminish a navy, and both commence from within: decommissioning ships; and failing to build them.
The U.S. is engaged in both, as the recent naval communication (excerpted below) and figures about naval shipbuilding noted immediately beneath demonstrate. The scenario that follows offers one possible consequence of the United States’ prolonged naval disarmament. There are many others. All lead to the same place: a self-inflicted loss of America’s great power status as a direct consequence of its navy’s inability to shape events, to project power, and to defend American and allied interests at a distance from our borders.
Mar. 12, 2012
From: Chief of Naval Operations
To: All Hands
Subj: Projected Ship Inactivation Schedule Fiscal Year 2013
The Projected FY13 Ship Inactivation Schedule … is promulgated as follows:
USS Crommelin (frigate, or FFG)
USS Underwood FFG
USS Curts FFG
USS Carr FFG
USS Enterprise (aircraft carrier)
USS Klakring FFG
USS Reuben James FFG
USS Cowpens (cruiser, or CG)
USS Anzio CG
USS Vicksburg CG
USS Port Royal CG
2. The usual life expectancy of a naval combatant is upwards of 30 years. Knowing how many ships will be built over the next three decades gives a rough idea of how large a fleet to expect at the end of that period. The Navy’s 2013 budget plans to spend 11.9 billion (constant 2012) dollars each year for the next five years on shipbuilding. If this level does not decrease because of possible sequestration or budget cuts that a re-elected President Obama might propose, or reductions demanded by the expense of servicing a rising national debt, and if the cost of ships continues to average 2 billion dollars while annual spending on shipbuilding remains constant, the Navy will be able to afford about 180 ships over the next 30 years. The size of the current fleet is 282 ships.
AP, November 24, 2050 — Washington: Nearing his 80th birthday, former U.S. President Marco Rubio warned that the unfolding tragedy in southern France highlighted the consequences of Congress’ failure to reverse the U.S. decline in naval power. The former president noted that the naval decline began at the end of the Cold War:
“With less than a 200-ship fleet and three ships needed to maintain one permanently deployed, the U.S. today can keep a little more than 50 ships on patrol around the world. And we can’t even manage that,” said Rubio, long a supporter of strong naval forces. “Most of our fleet is holed up in American waters and only dispatched if politicians can agree there’s a crisis overseas that’s worth a response. And even then, it’s a problem since someone always argues that sending U.S. naval force will heighten rather than reduce tension.”
Rubio’s comments followed a ballistic missile attack launched from the Middle East that partially destroyed the French city of Nice yesterday, killing nearly 10,000 residents. France has said it will retaliate as soon as it is certain where the launch occurred. Iran has denied firing the missile, but defense analysts agree that Iran is the only possible source of the attack. Paris’ decision in the late 2030s to stop building naval combatants equipped with ballistic missile defenses has left France with only two such vessels. One of them was in dry dock when the attack occurred. The other was participating in NATO’s annual exercise in the Baltic that consisted of four frigates, one each from the UK, Germany, Italy, and France.
Tensions between Iran and France have increased dramatically over the past few weeks following the French government’s national crackdown on radical Muslims who took to the streets in France’s major cities, setting neighborhoods on fire; killing police, fire officials, and civilians randomly; attacking businesses in broad daylight; and calling for new elections. The riots began when a Muslim candidate for the presidency was narrowly defeated in a run-off election. Large centers have been hastily constructed outside Bordeaux and Marseille to contain those awaiting trial on criminal charges associated with the riots.
Ayatollah Rafsanjani, the supreme leader of Iran, had warned days earlier: “Iran would not stand idly by and allow Muslims to be oppressed and placed in concentration camps anywhere in the world.” French political parties and the influential newspaper Le Figaro demanded a full-scale NATO retaliation, and observed that France was still exposed to additional ballistic missile attacks. Former President Rubio told the New York Times that the withdrawal of all U.S. naval forces from the Mediterranean a decade ago as a result of budget cuts had been a mistake: “The ballistic missile defenses carried aboard U.S. naval vessels in all likelihood would have been able to thwart the attack on Nice,” Rubio said. Iran possesses ballistic missiles that can reach the entire continental U.S. The American military’s alert posture was upgraded to DEFCON 2 following the attack, as President Aaron Schock called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council and dispatched his secretary of defense to a hastily called NATO meeting in Brussels.
New York Times, November 26, 2050: As riots spread across Europe to Holland and Britain and included Germany’s large Turkish-speaking population, NATO’s General Secretary Hakim Langsam admitted that European members lacked the ability to defend themselves against possible future missile attacks. He called on the U.S. to honor its Article Five commitments to NATO and to deploy eight destroyers equipped with ballistic missile defenses to the eastern Mediterranean at once.
At the White House, President Aaron Schock told a press conference that “the U.S. will stand firm with its NATO allies.” But the Schock administration so far has offered no official response to the general secretary’s request for U.S. ships equipped with ballistic missile defenses. American forces in Europe have gone on high alert while an additional two ships have been deployed to join the carrier strike group currently deployed to the Persian Gulf. The Pentagon announced that one of these ships, the U.S.S. Gabriel Giffords, has been fitted out with modules that allow it to sweep for mines, while the other ship, the U.S.S. Saul Alinsky, is equipped with the Navy’s ballistic missile defense system. Both ships are over a decade beyond their planned service lives. The 12-day transit of these small combatants from the U.S. East Coast will bring to a total of eight the number of U.S. vessels in the 93,000 square mile Gulf. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official Iranian news service, issued a statement calling U.S. naval deployments “belligerent.” It quoted an unnamed senior ayatollah who threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz and destroy “the U.S. aggressor” if the two additional U.S. ships so much as “approached” the Strait.