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Whither the Navy?
Claremont Review of Books ^ | January 21, 2013 | Mark Helprin

Posted on 01/21/2013 12:54:43 PM PST by neverdem

President Barack Obama believes, as he put it in his third debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, that though

we have fewer ships than we did in 1916...we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater.... The question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities.


Yes, the army's horses have been superseded by tanks and helicopters, and its bayonets rendered mainly ceremonial by armor and long-range automatic fires, but what, precisely, has superseded ships in the navy? The commander-in-chief has arrived at the epiphany that the ships of today could beat the hell out of those of 1916. To which one could say, like Neil Kinnock, "I know that, Prime Minister," and go on to add that we must configure the navy to face not the dreadnoughts of 1916 but "things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them," and "ships that go underwater," and also ballistic missiles, land-based aviation, and electronic warfare.

To hold that numbers and mass in war are unnecessary is as dangerous as believing that they are sufficient. Defense contractor Norman Augustine famously observed that at the rate fighter planes are becoming complex and expensive, soon we will be able to build just one. Neither a plane nor a ship, no matter how capable, can be in more than one place at once. And if one ship that is in some ways equivalent to 100 is damaged or lost, we have lost the equivalent of 100. But, in fact, except for advances in situational awareness, missile defense, and the effect of precision-guided munitions in greatly multiplying the target coverage of carrier-launched aircraft, the navy is significantly less capable than it was a relatively short time ago—in anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare, the ability to return ships to battle, and the numbers required to accomplish the tasks of deterrence or war.

For example, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomacy in the South China Sea is doomed to impotence because it consists entirely of declarations without the backing of sufficient naval potential, even now when China's navy is not half of what it will be in a decade. China's claims, equivalent to American expropriation of Caribbean waters all the way to the coast of Venezuela, are much like Hitler's annexations. But we no longer have bases in the area, our supply lines are attenuated across the vastness of the Pacific, we have much more than decimated our long-range aircraft, and even with a maximum carrier surge our planes would have to battle at least twice as many Chinese fighters.

Not until recently would China have been so aggressive in the South China Sea, but it has a plan, which is to grow; we have a plan, which is to shrink; and you get what you pay for. To wit, China is purposefully, efficiently, and successfully modernizing its forces and often accepting reductions in favor of quality. And yet, to touch upon just a few examples, whereas 20 years ago it possessed one ballistic missile submarine and the U.S. 34, now it has three (with two in the ways) and the U.S. 14. Over the same span, China has gone from 94 to 71 submarines in total, while the U.S. has gone from 121 to 71. Ours are better, but as ours become fewer China's are catching up and increasing in number.

The effect in principal surface warships is yet more pronounced. While China has risen from 56 to 78, the U.S. has descended from 207 to 114. In addition to parities, China is successfully focusing on exactly what it needs—terminal ballistic missile guidance, super-fast torpedoes and wave-skimming missiles, swarms of ocean-going missile craft, battle-picture blinding—to address American vulnerabilities, while our counters are insufficient or non-existent.

Nor is China our only potential naval adversary, and with aircraft, surface-to-surface missiles, and over-the-horizon radars the littoral countries need not have navies to assert themselves over millions of square miles of sea. Even the Somali pirates, with only outboard motors, skiffs, rocket-propelled grenades, and Kalashnikovs, have taxed the maritime forces of the leading naval states.

* * *

What, then, is a relatively safe number of highly capable ships appropriate for the world's richest country and leading naval power? Not the less than 300 at present, or the 200 to which we are headed, and not 330 or 350 either, but 600, as in the 1980s. Then, we were facing the Soviet Union, but now China, better suited as a maritime power, is rising faster than the United States at present is willing to face.

The trend lines are obvious and alarming, but in addition we face a potentially explosive accelerant of which the president is probably blissfully unaware, as is perhaps even his secretary of the navy who, as he dutifully guts his force, travels with an entourage befitting Kubla Khan, or at least Kubla Khan, Jr. That is that whereas the American Shipbuilding Association (now dissolved) counted six major yards, China has more than 100. Whenever China becomes confident of the maturation of its naval weapons systems, it can surge production and leave us as far behind as once we left the Axis and Japan. Its navy will be able to dominate the oceans and cruise in strength off our coasts, reversing roles to its pleasure and our peril—unless we attend to the navy, in quality, numbers, and without delay.

This would demand a president who, like Ronald Reagan, would damn the political torpedoes and back a secretary of the navy who, like John Lehman, would unashamedly and with every power of rhetoric and persistence rebuild the fleets. The military balance, the poise of the international system, and the peace of the world require no less. Nor does America deserve less. But in the next four years it will get less, much less, from an American administration that—perhaps uniquely in our history—neither understands nor trusts American power.

Mark Helprin, whose novels include Winter's Tale, A Soldier of the Great War and Freddy and Fredericka, is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute who writes the regular "Parthian Shot" column for the Claremont Review of Books.

TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: china; obama; usnavy

1 posted on 01/21/2013 12:54:46 PM PST by neverdem
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To: neverdem

The void in the Liberal cranium will get us all killed.

2 posted on 01/21/2013 12:59:37 PM PST by rockinqsranch (Dems, Libs, Socialists, call 'em what you will, they ALL have fairies livin' in their trees.)
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To: rockinqsranch; neverdem

The tiny consolation is that the current smaller Navy is commanded by the tiniest ever CinC.

I don’t know which would be worse, a weakened and vulnerable US, or a powerful military under the command of Zippy and his ilk.

3 posted on 01/21/2013 1:15:41 PM PST by generally (Don't be stupid. We have politicians for that.)
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To: neverdem

“The military balance, the poise of the international system, and the peace of the world require no less.”

Sorry. No. America chose 40 years ago to mouth lies, support lies, salute lies, reward lies and we’re going to get what is coming to us under the “leadership of the father of lies...

4 posted on 01/21/2013 1:58:59 PM PST by TalBlack (Evil doesn't have a day job.)
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To: neverdem

For the first time in years, our symbol of might and power, the Aircraft Carrier, is now vulnerable to Chinese and Russian missiles. They are slowing being reduced to targets on the high seas.

5 posted on 01/21/2013 2:02:07 PM PST by realcleanguy
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To: neverdem

Tough talk. Put up or shut up. Our country is broke, deep in debt and tired of war. How does the author plan on paying for a naval build up let alone increase the number of sailors?

6 posted on 01/21/2013 2:08:49 PM PST by KantianBurke (Where was the Tea Party when Dubya was spending like a drunken sailor?)
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To: KantianBurke

That’s not his job. There are thousands of very well paid pols and bureaucrats charged with planning our national defense.

7 posted on 01/21/2013 2:31:58 PM PST by Jacquerie ("How few were left who had seen the republic!" - Tacitus, The Annals)
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To: neverdem
We must, MUST, I tell you, have a much larger Navy!

If for no other reason, we need our ever growing number of Lesbian Captains and Rear Admirals to have some actual experience at sea.

Did you know that the Navy has more admirals (including LGBTs) than ships?

8 posted on 01/21/2013 3:54:32 PM PST by Kenny Bunk (Say, what the hell happened to Reggie Love? Who's in the playroom with Barry now?)
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To: neverdem

I think some billionaire could does us all a favor by building a fleet of modular small military boats, like a larger version of a WWII era PT boat, that could alternatively carry a few different weapons systems, based on what was needed.

Large enough to carry a MK-54 torpedo or two, anti-ship missiles, rockets or even 81mm mortars.

9 posted on 01/21/2013 4:50:52 PM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Best WoT news at
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To: realcleanguy

Symbols don’t win wars and pining for a 20th century Blue Water Navy in the 21st century is silly.

10 posted on 01/22/2013 3:01:49 AM PST by 1010RD (First, Do No Harm)
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To: Jacquerie

“That’s not his job.”

He sure acts as if it is what with his call for replicating the Reagan fleet rebuilding. Once AGAIN, put up or shut up. He wants a huge armada? How does he intend to pay for it along with the associated personnel costs?

11 posted on 01/22/2013 3:42:01 AM PST by KantianBurke (Where was the Tea Party when Dubya was spending like a drunken sailor?)
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To: KantianBurke

Pretty simple, if you want “peace”, prepare for “war”.

Odumbo is giving away this country to the takers and soon, those “takers” will be other countries that can walk in and take us.

12 posted on 01/22/2013 4:20:24 AM PST by DaveA37
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To: Progov

Still waiting on a payment plan for your buildup. Take your time. I’ll wait.

13 posted on 01/22/2013 3:13:04 PM PST by KantianBurke (Where was the Tea Party when Dubya was spending like a drunken sailor?)
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To: 1010RD

Agreed. The game has changed and we are still years behind

14 posted on 01/23/2013 2:36:24 PM PST by realcleanguy
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