WASHINGTON, April 27, 2011 — The operations of the past year highlight the need for the United States to maintain responsive and flexible global forces, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a Defense Writers Group breakfast here today.
Mabus said he had just returned from Japan, where he met with 7,000 sailors and Marines who worked in Operation Tomadachi to provide relief for earthquake and tsunami victims.
“A couple of things struck me: One of them was the amazing skill of these men and women in uniform, and secondly was the flexibility that they showed,” he said.
Mabus visited the USS Ronald Reagan during his trip. The ship was heading to provide combat aviation over Afghanistan when the earthquake hit. It immediately turned around and began providing disaster relief and humanitarian assistance, he noted.
“They used the same targeting formulas that they would use for combat to make sure that humanitarian assistance got to the right place, at the right time,” he said. Mabus said it is important that the United States takes a fundamental look at the roles and missions of the military in a fiscally constrained environment. The Navy has been trying to “buy things smarter” and has been looking at everything from platforms to personnel in an effort to save money yet still provide the capabilities the nation needs, he said.
Operations over the past months have highlighted the flexibility the Navy brings to the U.S. government’s toolbox, Mabus told the group. Some 18 ships and thousands of personnel on the ground helped in Japan. Navy submarines, big-deck amphibious ships and frigates participated in the initial strikes in Libya. At the same time, he said, aircraft carriers provided support to forces in Afghanistan and in the Persian Gulf, and Navy ships also are part of the antipiracy patrols in the Gulf and off the coast of Somalia.
“The need for a globally deployed, very flexible fleet [is apparent],” he said. “The same platforms that we used in Libya can be used for a number of other things.” What makes the fleet flexible, the secretary said, is that it comes from the sea. “We don’t have to take up an inch of anybody’s ground to project power or deliver aid,” he said. “We can sail on the sea lanes that we keep open.”
And this flexibility will only increase, he said. The Navy is testing using unmanned aircraft off the decks of carriers, for example. The Navy and the country need to look at budget constraints with an eye toward results, Mabus said.
“I think American needs to be a global power, [and] I do think America needs to be globally deployed,” he said. “We have global responsibilities, and I think we should meet those, so I don’t think we should look at this like a math exercise.”
Noting that the service has to be quicker in procurements, Mabus said the recently cancelled expeditionary fighting vehicle is the poster child for what’s wrong with procurement. “It’s the only program I’ve ever seen where you had to have a life extension program on the test vehicles,” he said. The program started in 1988, and it wasn’t set to reach full operational capability until 2026.
The secretary noted that the Marine Corps has become larger and its equipment is heavier. “When we come out of Afghanistan, the [Marine Corps] needs to be smaller, and it needs to be lighter,” he said. “They need to go back to their amphibious roots.”
Mabus compared the Marines to a middleweight fighter -– fast and agile with enough punching power to hold until heavier capabilities arrive. Still, he said, “there will be more Marines doing things like cyber. There will be more Marines doing things like special operations enablers.”
Going forward, he said, officials need to keep three questions in mind: “For anything, what’s the mission? What do we need to do the mission? How cheaply can you get there?” The Navy has seen personnel changes, Mabus said, and those will continue. As part of the efficiency effort, the service has moved sailors from shore billets to ships, he said, and desk personnel to pierside. The littoral combat ships need fewer sailors to man them, he added, and the new aircraft carriers will require 1,500 fewer sailors to operate.
“I think by rebalancing the force, changing the way sailors and Marines are used, you can have a larger number of ships with the size of the force we have today,” he said.
The Navy will hold a personnel board over the summer to look at mid-career personnel, the secretary told the group, seeking balance in the service’s specialties, or ratings. “We’re removing them from ratings that are over-subscribed and giving them the chance to move to ratings that are under-subscribed,” Mabus said.
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