Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Our Navy, Our Destiny Candidates Must Plan for Our Forces at Sea

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Our Navy, Our Destiny Candidates Must Plan for Our Forces at Sea

Article excerpt

The Navy's operations, on which the sun never sets, are the nation's nerve endings, connecting it with the turbulent world. Although the next president may be elected without addressing the Navy's proper size and configuration, for four years he or she will be acutely aware of where the carriers are. Today they are at the center of a debate about their centrality, even viability, in the Navy's projection of force.

Far out in the South China Sea, China is manufacturing mini- islands out of reefs, asserting sovereignty above and around these militarized specks. Through this sea and adjoining straits pass half the world's seaborne tonnage; five of America's most important 15 trading partners are in this region.

Until President Donald Trump launches his many trade wars, those partners include China, America's third-largest export market and largest source of imports. The Obama administration has rejected challenging China's audacity by not sailing through its claimed territorial waters around the new reef-islands.

Henry J. Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security argues that carriers may now be too expensive and vulnerable. China has developed land-based anti-ship missiles to force carriers to operate so far from targets that manned aircraft might become less useful than drones operating from smaller, less expensive carriers.

The newest carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, to be commissioned next year, costs $12.8 billion. Add the costs of the air wing, the support of five surface combat ships and one attack submarine and 6,700 sailors. The bill for operating a carrier group: $2.5 million a day. China, says Mr. Hendrix, could build more than 1,200 of its premier anti-ship missiles for the cost of one Ford carrier, and one of the 1,200 could achieve "mission-kill," removing the carrier from the fight for months.

The bad news is that America's entitlement state is devouring the federal budget. The good news might be this axiom: As money gets scarcer, people get smarter.

It might be smart to reduce spending on the astonishingly expensive and operationally dubious F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and redirect the money to drones that could extend, for a while, the carriers' viability. …

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