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  • VIDEO: Navy Faces Readiness Crisis as More Ships Unprepared for Combat

    The year was 1979. America’s military had emerged from the Vietnam War earlier in the decade and was now facing sizable and significant budget cuts.

    Capt. Tom Shanahan, commanding officer of the USS Canisteo, had just returned from the Mediterranean Sea and was now leading an overhaul of his fleet supply ship. Over the course of 10 months, the crew assigned to the Canisteo gradually disappeared, relocated by the Navy to other assignments. Those personnel cuts eventually left Shanahan with so few men that he couldn’t take his ship to sea.

    “Little by little, they stripped us of a lot of the people we had, key people,” Shanahan recounted recently. “By the time we were ready to get underway from the shipyard and go back to Norfolk, we didn’t have enough people. We didn’t have enough people in any of the departments, but mainly we didn’t have enough people in the engine room.”

    Shanahan took the bold step of refusing to certify his ship as seaworthy. He warned his superiors long before his readiness reports. Yet when he deemed his warship not ready for combat, it came as a surprise to many in the military.

    “We were in one of those periods where in order to cut costs, we cut personnel. And we cut personnel too far,” he said. “You see that cycle repeating itself, and now we’re in that same situation right now as we were before. So you’re readiness goes down. It just has to.”

    More than 30 years later, the U.S. Navy is facing another readiness crisis. Shanahan’s story illustrates how budget cuts after Vietnam left the military unprepared. Cuts today are creating a new set of challenges.

    Stars and Stripes reported that more than one-fifth of Navy ships were not ready for combat. One of those ships, the USS Essex, has suffered three-high profile problems over the past year alone. It was unable to complete two missions because of mechanical or maintenance issues. And just this month, as it made the trip from Japan to San Diego, the aging warship’s steering failed, causing it to collide with a tanker.

    “I can see in the USS Essex the same types of things that happened to me in Canisteo,” Shanahan said. “You draw down equipment, you draw down personnel, and therefore, you draw down the readiness of your ship to deploy. I had that case in Canisteo. I was drawn down to the standpoint I could not get the ship to sea, and I had to be honest with my superiors and say I couldn’t do it.”

    In the case of the USS Essex, the 21-year-old amphibious assault ship spent the past 12 years deployed in Japan and other areas of the Pacific. It will undergo maintenance for about a year in San Diego.

    The readiness challenges are something Shanahan thinks can be avoided. He noted the typical pattern of cutting the military’s budget following conflicts, a short-term perspective that undermines the long-term goals of protecting America.

    “It doesn’t make any sense to me to get the budget under control by devoiding yourself of a national defense,” he said. “There’s only one place to be when you’re fighting war. Second place is no good. You have to win.”

    Shanahan said he saw this play out before and regrets that it could be happening again. Unless Congress acts, the U.S. military is facing $492 billion of mandatory defense cuts from sequestration agreed to in the Budget Control Act.

    For the Navy, readiness plays a crucial role, according to Heritage’s Brian Slattery. He said it’s particularly important in areas of the world like the Asia-Pacific, where China has shown assertiveness.

    “The aircraft carrier fleet is an asset that should be of particular concern,” Slattery wrote on The Foundry. “There is a possibility that soon the fleet may fall to nine ships — below the congressionally mandated requirement of 11. Meanwhile, China has recently begun sea trials on its first aircraft carrier, and its officials have expressed a requirement of at least three carriers ‘so we can defend our rights and our maritime interests effectively.’”

    President Obama, however, shows no sign of changing course. Just last week during a speech at the Air Force Academy, Obama defended his sizable budget cuts and told graduates that they would need to prepare for a leaner force.

    This is the third of a three-part series on the risks of budget cuts to America’s military. It was produced and directed by Will Lamborn. Brandon Stewart and Alison Meyer assisted with production. For more videos from Heritage, subscribe to our YouTube channel.

    Posted in Featured, Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    14 Responses to VIDEO: Navy Faces Readiness Crisis as More Ships Unprepared for Combat

    1. West Texan says:

      "Yet when he deemed his warship not ready for combat …".

      Let's hope he didn't plan on taking his fuel tanker into a fight. That said, I understand the gentleman's message. Surface vessels do serve a critical role, but I'd personally be happy to see an increase in the submarine force. The real issue with misguided defense budget cuts has to do with our country's constitutional foundation. Contrary to the Beltway's social engineering duplicity, the nation's original construct does matter. Congress is responsible to " … provide and maintain a Navy …". The U.S. Constitution, Article 1, section 8 [13]. There's absolutely nothing telling congress to subvert states' domestic sovereignty with outrageous monstrosities like "Obamacare". To say the current progressives in congress and the White House have their priorities completely backward is a gross understatement.

      • Donal Cole says:

        Your ability to quote Article 1, Section 8 (13) identifies you as one who is commited to being a good citizen of this great . . . but fading . . .Nation. One small correction converning Captain Shanahan's former Command . . . his ship was a fleet supply vessel, not a fuel tanker but, indeed, ALL Navy ships serve a critical role. So, too, is our Federal Government responsible to serve a "critical" role. Unfortunately, what passes today as a Federal Government is a disgraceful collection of imposters, top to bottom . . .both side of the now invisible aisle. The result is that this collection of self absorbed incompetents, instead of serving a "critical role" . . . have drawn us down to a Nation in "Critical Condition". Please join me on November 6, 2012 and send these "counterfeit servants of the people" packing.

      • Roger Derby says:

        I kind of expect his vessel was part of the units which were the Navy's equivalent to Patton's "Red Ball Express." A submarine wallowing on the surface for lack of some critical part or lube oil is out-of-service.

    2. Lloyd Scallan says:

      Remember America, when Congress voted to cut a half trillion dollars from the military budget, the Republican leadership when along with it. We must realize the deteration of our military is not caused only by Obama and the Dems. The present Republicans in Washington should be held just as responsible. Very few deserve to be reelected, including Boehner and McConnell.

      • Greg says:

        Yes they did, knowing full well that when it came time for the actual cuts, the Republican congress would stop the defunding in it's tracks. The token gesture to cut the military was to keep the Dems happy so they would allow the extension of the Bush tax cuts. Even now you can see the cuts being challenged, and new laws drawn up that would take military spending cuts off the table if another such situation should occur. We need to keep the special interest out of the equation so that spending on arms the pentagon does not want do not go to committee. Should the GOP retain the seats in the Senate and fill some of the out going dem seats with GOP, These laws would breeze through. Of course we need a GOP President to stop the addition of libs to the SCOTUS as well as to sign the laws into reality.

      • djlanahan says:

        Totally agree…

      • Cliff Baker says:

        That is one reason I have cancelled my long standing membership with the NRC. Don't get all excited, I am certainly not leaning toward the Liberal Democratic Party. I just went independent, now the can try to figure out how to win my vote, something that has been taken for granted far too long.

    3. Bob Brittingham says:

      i was the 1st Lt. on USS Concord AFS-5 when Canisteo had this problem. we had as well shorthandedness across all departments. very difficult to prepare for a battle group hit with a crew 25% short of personnel. it required some serious juggling of people from department to department to get the job done. problem is, when you do that, you wear your troops down very quickly. in addition to shortages, some of the replacements sent in to augment the crews were what was known as Mcnamara's 100,000. more trouble than they were worth as a rule. straight out of the brig in alot of cases. we as a country need to decide whether or not we want to maintain freedom of the seas and a naval force capable of meeting the strategic requirements of our government, and if so, fund the service appropriately.

    4. jmsmaxwell says:

      Typically it is the Democrats who want to cut and reduce out military strength and manpower. They claim
      it is a "Peace Dividend" but in reality they want to spend the money on social programs that help buy them
      voted come next election. We have seen this happen time after time. The military members work long
      hours away from home and family in foreign lands under harsh conditions. They are the lowest paid of
      the Federal employees and receive the lowest retirement benefits. Yet they stand in the breach of
      freedom to protect us at home and our loved ones.

    5. Steve in St. Louis says:

      The financial state of the country does matter. In order to maintain a formidable naval force, probably a tax increase of some sort will be necessary on those who have the money to pay it. There is widespread unemployment and domestic politics is strongly influenced by employment and the state of the economy.
      There is a need for an adequate sea force to maintain peace, and probably is the cost of doing business in the global economy.
      This means forces to protect American shipping against piracy, probably interdiction of drug cartels and international criminal organizations, which are becoming a force to be reckoned with, international terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and unfriendly nation states, which increasingly have the potential to interdict shipping a critical choke points such as the Persian Gulf, indonesia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean in the region of Cuba and Venezuela.
      It probably will be necessary to respond to crisis situations in multiple regions of the world at a moments notice or face the consequences.
      It is always much easier to defend assets rather than restore that which has been lost.

    6. SandySalt says:

      As a retired Naval Officer, I see several problems with the situation the military wanted to modernize and reduce the number of bases and old equipment, so what happened some bases were closed and some newer ships retired. The reason was that if you had a powerful Congressman then you could force the military to make unsound decisions just so you could keep milking the military back home. To prove the point think about the sub base New London, CT or Portsmith Shipyard, because they were always on the chopping block but never got cut because of several Senators that said that would ruin the local economy. So we still have bases that the military said it didn't need.

      Let's talk about ships, we have had several first flight 688's, FFGs, and DDGs retired when we could have kept some of the newer ones to maintain fleet numbers if that was necessary, while running off and spending billions on newer designs such as the LCS, San Antonio Class, and DDGX. We have good designs that we could have made more of but refused to chase newer and better, so we killed off functional ships to make these dreams happen. Finally the most criminal of all is keeping old old ships in service because of poor planning and political reasons. Think the USS Kennedy the 12th air craft carrier, just so Jacksonville could have a carrier. Then complain that the CO didn't do enough to keep the ship functional, same goes for the Big E and all of its 8 reactors.

      We need to really think about 11 carriers and building newer and newer designs. We could have an outstanding Navy with 10 carriers and lots and lots good destroyers and cruisers of an 80's design with a few upgrades vice spending billions on LCS.

    7. David Millikan says:

      To cut any of our Navy is pure insanity. We should definitely build more carriers, destroyers, submarines, and aircraft. We got caught with our pants down on December 7, 1941. I for one, do not care to see history repeat itself with China building their military up. If history has proved anything it is the nation with the most powerful Naval Fleet that keeps the others at bay.
      We cannot afford anything less.

    8. J-D says:

      The military is the one area that the Federal Government should be spending money. This is one of the main purposes of the Federal Government. We should get rid of a lot of the other spending like welfare. In addition, after we come home from a war it makes perfect sense to downsize the military. It helps keep us a peaceful nation and helps to prevent tyranny. Many of the founding fathers didn't like the idea of a standing army. The U.S. historically would practically disband the military after conflicts. It took the U.S. a while to get into WWI and WWII because of this practice. I agree that because today we live in a world of nuclear weapons, satellites, jets, and high military technology we need to maintain a capable military force. I also believe that it is prudent to shrink the size of the military in between conflicts.

    9. Pingback: Still Time Left to Avoid Dangerous Defense Sequestration Cuts

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