You had to know this was coming:
The word within the U.S. Department of Defense is that the White House wants to collect six to eight “scalps” — major program kills — in this year’s Quadrennial Defense Review…
(While) most of the military services are scrambling to protect programs, at least one is getting ready to offer up a signature weapons system. The U.S. Navy will propose removal of one aircraft carrier and air wing from its posture, dropping the number of carriers to the lowest number since 1942…
That step would cut the Navy’s projected shortfall in strike aircraft by half. So billions of dollars are saved by skipping the refueling, cutting the purchase of aircraft, and eliminating the need to sustain 6,000. personnel associated with ship operations and air-wing support.
Loren Thompson posits that the cuts are driven by a Bush era plan to increase ground force end strength by 92,000. Just in time to bring them back home again. Truthfully though, then-CNO Vern Clark was already considering this step as late as the 10th of September 2001, before history got in the way.
Put three ships on deployment, three returning from deployment, three preparing from deployment, two in post-deployment maintenance and one in a complex overhaul, and you get 12 ships. Go to 11 ships and you get seven t0 eight month deployments (and sailors start voting with their feet). Go to ten, and you can find yourself in a position where you take on considerable warfighting risk with exceptionally valuable assets.
Meanwhile, the mission set never changes.
We’ve gone through all of this before, cutting force structure because it’s too expensive to maintain. We always seem to forget that once cut, it’s well-nigh impossible to reconstitute – there’s only a finite pool of industrial capability to build and maintain nuclear powered aircraft carriers, and if the work dries up, those resources get re-deployed elsewhere.
Each ship of a class and its associated air wing also come with an aggregate life cycle support tail. When those aircraft and ships are eliminated, the support tail is commensurately reduced. Which means, in effect, that a few years hence we’ll have the same kinds of budget shortfalls Navy faces today, but with less combat capability. Which is how, back in the late 90s, we managed to “recapitalize” the surface fleet down from a Reagan era high of nearly 600 ships to a barely adequate 280 or so.