Navy to Gates: Yes, we need 11 aircraft carriers

WASHINGTON Thu May 6, 2010 8:58pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy told Congress it wants to keep 11 aircraft carriers through 2045, just days after Defense Secretary Robert Gates called into question the need for that many.

"The Navy remains firmly committed to maintaining a force of 11 carriers for the next three decades," Sean Stackley, the service's warship buyer, told the Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee on Thursday.

The 11-carrier force structure is based on "world-wide presence requirements, surge availability, training and exercise, and maintenance" needs, he said in an opening statement.

Gates stirred the waters on Monday with a speech in which he asked whether the United States could afford "a Navy that relies on 3- to 6-billion-dollar destroyers, along with 7-billion-dollar submarines and 11-billion-dollar carriers."

He cited both the "massive over-match" enjoyed by the United States in projecting power across the oceans as well as potential foes' growing anti-ship know-how, including cruise and ballistic missiles that could strike from over the horizon.

"Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?" Gates asked the annual conference of the Navy League, a supporters' group.

In addition, he circled back to his doubts, first voiced publicly last April, about amphibious warfare. He repeated questions about a projected $13.2 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program for the Marine Corps.

The Commandant, General James Conway, has said it is "an absolute critical requirement" for the Marines. The program is led by General Dynamics Corp.

Northrop Grumman Corp and Lockheed Martin Corp are other big Navy suppliers.

The Navy and Marine Corps have determined they can make do with no fewer than 33 amphibious warfare ships, Stackley, the assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, testified Thursday.

Lieutenant General George Flynn, the deputy Marine commandant for combat development and integration who also testified, said 33 such ships represented a "limit in acceptable risk" for two Marine expeditionary brigades to punch their way through enemy shores.

"Now after eight years of conflict on land, it is important that we challenge conventional thought with regard to the utility of sea-based forces," Flynn had said Tuesday at a roll-out of the latest prototype of the Marines' new $16 million-plus craft for hurtling from ship to shore and inland.

Senator James Webb, a panel member who was President Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary, shot back at Gates during the hearing.

"I think it would be a very serious mistake to cut back on the defense budget in order to fund ground forces that are in Iraq and Afghanistan, hopefully temporarily," the Virginia Democrat said, "at the expense of these vital shipbuilding programs that take years and years to put into place."

Gates, in his remarks on Monday, said the military risked creating a gap "between the capabilities that we are pursuing and those that are actually needed in the world of tomorrow."

The defense secretary is to speak about "political will and the defense budget" on Saturday. He will be visiting the presidential library in Kansas of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who warned against a "military-industrial complex" in his farewell speech of January 17, 1961.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Gary Hill)

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Comments (3)
pcasinelli wrote:
Aircraft carriers are not flashy toys for the military. They are essential tools for US foreign policy. As a naval power, the United States’ aircraft carriers are essential to the defense of shipping lanes, our fleet, and our overseas operations. To cut back on any of them would be a big mistake. For a good article about this see:

May 06, 2010 10:41pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Smooge wrote:
“vital shipbuilding programs that take years and years to put into place”? I’m sure we could simply throw that open for bid to the world and give some foreign company billions of our tax dollars for those too just like the aerial refueling tankers! Whats the problem?

May 06, 2010 11:51pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Smooge wrote:
I agree but our government is throwing that possibility on the table right now to the tune of 35-50 billion of our tax dollars to the foreign company EADS over the American company Boeing. What is the difference between ships and aircraft when it comes to that much of our tax dollars and jobs?

May 07, 2010 7:52pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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