President Obama declared earlier this month that national-security strategy should drive the defense budget and not vice versa. Talk is cheap. An emerging debate over the Navy’s future reveals the price America will pay for slashing defense.
The Washington Times reported Monday that the Defense Department is considering cutting the aircraft-carrier fleet to as few as nine vessels. That would be down from the congressionally mandated force of 11 ships. Diminishing sea power runs counter to Mr. Obama’s stated strategic priorities. The defense strategic guidance issued Jan. 5, which Mr. Obama claimed reflected his personal vision, noted that “U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities.” The document announced a strategic pivot in which U.S. forces “will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” In case the administration was unaware, that part of the world is mostly ocean.
Defense strategy should be internally consistent even in a time of austerity. Announcing that the United States is making a strategic shift to the Pacific and then cutting the blue-water fleet makes about as much sense as setting a hard deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan and then rushing to pull out whether the mission has been completed or not. At best, the twisted actions demonstrate a lack of clarity in connecting means and ends. At worst, this communicates a troubling level of disorganization and insufficient focus.
Carriers have often been declared obsolete. In 1942, two months after the classic carrier engagement at Midway, air-power advocate Alexander P. de Seversky said….
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