Tempo Takes Toll on Navy, Marine Equipment
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010 The Navy and Marine Corps are performing at top level and maintaining high morale, but the high operational tempo is seriously overtaxing equipment and vehicles, service leaders told Congress this week.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway provided overviews of the Navy and Marine Corps during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee today and the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. Both hearings addressed the Defense Department’s proposed fiscal 2011 budget.
Mabus outlined the operational tempo and accomplishments of the two services, beginning with the 15,000 Marines “at the forefront of our nation’s defense” in Helmand province, Afghanistan. That number will grow to 20,000 this spring, he said.
“It is a testament to the responsiveness and combat capability of the Marine Corps that the first troops to depart for Afghanistan in the wake of the president’s Dec. 1 announcement [for a plus-up of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan] were 1,500 Marines from Camp Lejuene,” the secretary said.
To date, 73 percent of Marines have deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and the tempo has increased dramatically in recent years, Conway said. In 2002, the number of Marines who had deployed for at least 120 consecutive days over two years was 4,845; as of last month, the number was 100,760.
While morale remains high among deployed Marines, Conway said, operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have accelerated wear and tear on equipment and, in effect, degraded readiness. Of particular concern, he said, is that equipment left at home stations cannot sustain adequate training for other contingencies.
“Equipment stocks are at an all-time low,” Conway said. “Our ability to perform and train for deployment and our ability to respond to an unknown threat is greatly hindered until this is addressed. We cannot wait for the guns to fall silent in Afghanistan to address this critical issue.”
The Navy has 12,000 sailors on the ground in U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility and 9,000 sailors at sea supporting combat operations, Mabus said. Outside the combat theaters, the Navy maintains a ballistic missile defense force of cruisers and destroyers routinely deployed to the Mediterranean, Arabian Gulf and Western Pacific regions to maintain deterrence, a mission that will be expanded, Mabus said. The Navy leads 24 nations combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, and closely supports the Coast Guard-led counternarcotics effort with 13 nations in the Caribbean.
The Navy and Marine Corps are conducting training in Africa, South America and the Pacific; have treated more than 110,000 patients aboard the USNS Comfort and the Fleet Auxiliary USNS Richard E. Byrd; and have been the front-line humanitarian response for natural disasters in Indonesia, the Philippines, American Samoa and Haiti, Mabus said.
“The Navy and Marine Corps are flexible, responsive, and everywhere that our nation’s interests are at stake,” he said. “I have been constantly inspired by the high morale, courage and commitment to serving our country displayed by every one of them as they conduct our missions.”
Full funding of the services’ $160.7 billion budget request is necessary to prevail in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, prevent future conflicts, prepare for contingencies and preserve and enhance the all-volunteer force, Mabus said.
The budget request includes funding for nine new ships, including two additional Virginia-class submarines, two destroyers in the restarted Arleigh Burke line, a lower-cost version of the Mobile Landing Platform, and two Littoral Combat Ships, among others. On the aviation side, the request would fund 206 aircraft, including F-35 joint strike fighters, MH-60R’s and P-8A’s for maritime patrol, MH-60S’s for logistics support, H-1 variant helicopters and MV-22 Ospreys for the Marine Corps. The budget also funds 564 new tactical vehicles for the Marines, and development of the Navy Unmanned Combat Aerial System and Broad Area Maritime Surveillance UAV.
“I continue to focus on ensuring our Navy is properly balanced to answer the call now and in the decades to come,” Roughead said. “Last year, I stated our risk was moderate trending toward significant because of the challenges of fleet capacity, increasing operational requirements and growing manpower, maintenance and infrastructure costs. This risk has increased over the last year as trends in each of these areas have continued.”
In the last decade, the Navy fleet has decreased by 30 ships, or about 10 percent, and active duty end strength dropped 13 percent, while operational demands have grown, Roughead said. Due to the high ops tempo, “we are consuming the service life our fleet at a higher than expected rate,” and longer deployments with shorter dwell times [at home stations] is stressing sailors and families and increasing maintenance requirements, he said.
“Regular maintenance of our ships and aircraft, and training and certification of our crews between deployments is essential to our ability to sustain our force,” the admiral said. “For our Navy, continuous reset translates into decades of service for each ship and aircraft, a significant return on our investment.”
Mabus listed as Navy and Marine Corps priorities as taking care of servicemembers, civilian staff and their families; treating energy consumption as an issue of national security, improving acquisitions and optimizing unmanned systems.