* Defense secretary questioned need for so many carriers
* Marines push back on need for amphibious operations
* Gates to discuss political will, defense budget
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, May 6 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
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
"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 (GD.N).
Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) and Lockheed Martin Corp
(LMT.N) 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
"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 Jan. 17, 1961.
(Reporting by Jim Wolf; Editing by Gary Hill)