Our current aircraft carrier force includes 11 big-deck flat tops, as mandated by Congress. The president’s pivot away from Europe and towards Asia and the Middle East envisions principally an air-sea dominance strategy, in which the carriers are Navy’s principal strike platforms.
So why is Navy quietly pushing to reduce the carrier footprint below that required by the law?
Conventional wisdom says the requirement to cut $488 billion from the Pentagon within 10 years will not necessitate banishing a single carrier because the president’s military strategy focuses on two carrier-dependent regions: Asia, where China is building a robust navy, and the Persian Gulf, where Iran threatens to block international oil shipping.
As Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta prepares to introduce the strategy’s first budget next month, the Navy has been in a furious fight behind the scenes to protect only 10 carriers, sources familiar with the issue told The Washington Times.
The sources say that, while the fiscal 2013 budget may well continue 11 carriers, the Navy will be down to 10 or even nine carriers within in the next five years.
A carrier typically transports about 80 aircraft and leads a battle group comprising 7,500 sailors, a guided- missile cruiser, two guided-missile destroyers, an attack submarine and a supply ship. Eliminating one carrier battle group would save billions of dollars.
It’s all about the money: Navy is reading between the lines, and realizes that while the strategy may be changing, the politics have not. We’ve seen this movie before: Develop a new national security strategy, then underfund it.