Mabus Cites Need for Globally Deployed Navy

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.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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