Navy Performing Well, Keeps Eye on Future Force
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2005 The Navy is performing magnificently around the world, but there are concerns that need to be addressed to assure the long-term future of the force, the chief of naval operations told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 10.
Adm. Vern Clark, who's announced he'll retire in July, said the Navy is busy. In the past year, the sea service has maintained an average of 20,000 sailors a day as part of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf region.
"They've flown 3,000 air sorties and delivered over a hundred thousand pounds of ordnance in support of U.S. and coalition forces on the ground in Iraq," he told senators.
In addition, sailors have boarded more than 2,000 ships at sea to deter, to delay and to disrupt the movement of terrorists. There are more than 7,000 sailors on the ground in the Middle East to include SEALS, medical corpsmen operating with the Marines, Seabees and hundreds of support personnel in Iraq and throughout the theater.
But even with these accomplishments, the Navy is looking to the future and assessing the means needed to deal with unexpected threats. "While transnational terrorists and criminals are, correctly, the focus of today's efforts, we are also keeping a weather eye on increasing anti-access and sea- denial capabilities being developed by other nations in the world, particularly in the Middle East and Asia," Clark said.
The Navy must determine what the intentions are of "those nations who are displaying emergent investment patterns that could challenge the sea control that we currently possess," he said.
Another concern is funding. Clark said rising operational and overhead costs are competing with the Navy's ability to transform. He said the service is absorbing costs of the war on terror not funded via supplemental spending requests.
New ships and new classes of ships are slowed because of the budget crunch, and costs are escalating at an alarming rate and eroding buying power, the admiral said.
"Finally, personnel costs continue to rise, especially regarding health care," he said. "While we owe our men and women and their families a solid standard of living that reflects the great value of their service to our nation, we must also ensure that our force is properly shaped, trained and educated to provide maximum return on the investment we are making in their growth and development."
The Navy needs congressional support to implement more flexible ship and aircraft procurement funding mechanisms, Clark said. This includes advance procurement and split funding, and aggressive use of research and development funds. "Such tools will allow us to better leverage economies of scale, help the industrial base and speed the delivery of advanced technologies to our fleet," he said.
Clark said the service must continue to experiment with innovative force- shaping tools, to ensure the Navy is properly sized and shaped and skilled to meet future challenges. "In fact, we need a 21st century human capital structure to meet the military needs in this new century," he said. "It's time to replace the near 50- year-old system that we possess today with one that will compete in the 21st century marketplace."
Clark addressed the Navy contention that it can eliminate one carrier the USS John F. Kennedy in fiscal 2006, bringing the carrier fleet from 12 to 11. He said he told Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that with the changes the Navy had made, "we had learned how to extract more readiness out of our total operating force."
The Fleet Response Plan, modified maintenance procedures and improved training processes allowed the Navy "to extract more readiness utility out of our force," Clark said. He told Rumsfeld the United States "would take some risk if we eliminated a carrier from the structure, but it was our view that this was an offset that should be given very serious consideration."