Anchors Away -- Obama Sinks U.S. Navy

As China builds military bases on man-made islands in the South China Sea, the staggering decline in U.S. naval readiness was made clear when a group of Navy captains testified before an unusual joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and readiness subcommittees last week. It was made clear that President Ronald Reagan’s 600-ship Navy is a distant memory as we return to the Jimmy Carter era of ships that can’t sail and planes that can’t fly for want of spare parts.

This sad state of affairs is accomplishing what the Japanese Imperial Navy could not -- defeat the U.S. Navy and leave the seas increasingly open to hostile adversaries and leaving us increasingly unable to come to the aid of our remaining allies. As the Navy captains testified:

“About every three months or so we would get a new schedule” for the submarine USS Albany, said Capt. Gregory McRae, deputy commander of Submarine Squadron Six. “Today, we are looking at a 43-month overhaul for a maintenance period that was supposed to last 28 months.”

“Cannibalization” -- pulling scarce spare parts off one ship or plane to fix another about to deploy -- is now routine, the captains testified. For example, the USS Normandy has served as an organ donor for 13 different “mission critical” components over the last 45 days, crippling the anti-aircraft cruiser‘s radar. “I could not possibly surge right now” for an emergency deployment, testified Normandy skipper Capt. Scott Robertson.

Naval air forces are in similar straits. Four of the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings are fully manned and equipped, but those four are the ones either deployed or about to deploy, said Capt. Randy Stearns. Getting one of the other six wings ready to go in an emergency would take six to 12 months, “three times as long” as when he was a young officer, Stearns said: “As of today, we don’t have that surge capacity.”

Carrier Air Wing One will not have the funds or parts to fly at all for four months, Stearns testified. That will save $9 million to $13 million in the short run, but they’ll never get those months of training back, said Stearns. In the long term, “it’s going to take me three times the amount and three times the cost to get them back up to speed.”

Compounding this crisis is the Budget Control Act, “We’ve never caught up” on the maintenance and training cancelled in 2013, said Capt. Stearns. Last year’s budget deal loosened the BCA caps for fiscal year 2016 but kept them $18 billion tighter for 2017.

While it has been the media-accepted talking point of the Obama administration that sequestration was a bipartisan readiness suicide pact forced on it by the Congress, Investor’s Business Daily has pointed out that this myth has been demolished by reporter Bob Woodward of Watergate fame:

If President Obama has an enemies list, Bob Woodward is probably at the top of it. After all, it was Woodward who started the unraveling of the president’s “sequestration apocalypse” mantra by confirming it was the White House’s idea in the first place.

When President Obama said the “sequester is not something that I proposed,” he lied. His then-OMB Director Jack Lew, recently confirmed as Treasury Secretary, and White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors pitched the idea to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who pushed it, according to Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics.”

When Woodward called a senior White House official last week to tell him that, in a piece in that weekend’s Washington Post, he would question President Obama’s account of how sequestration came about, he said the Obama aide “yelled at me for about a half-hour,” ending with the Nixonesque warning, “I think you will regret staking out that claim.”

That official was Gene Sperling, a top economic aide.

Such willful neglect of the U.S. military by our commander-in-chief had geopolitical consequences. An editorial in the Global Times, a newspaper seen as a mouthpiece for hard-line nationalists in Beijing, warns of the consequences of resistance: “If the United States’ bottom line is that China has to halt these activities, then a U.S. China war is inevitable in the South China Sea.” As Investor’s Business Daily has noted:

Beijing has long declared the South China Sea to be its territorial waters and has laid claim to two disputed chains: the Paracel Islands, about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam, and the Spratly Islands in the southeastern part of the South China Sea. China's territorial ambitions include the Senkakus in the East China Sea, part of what Chinese military doctrine refers to as the "first island chain" that surrounds China.

In the South China Sea, as of February, China had finished construction on no less than six different island reefs from which to project its power in the South China Sea. Included in its military effort is the construction of a 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) long runway on the artificially expanded Fiery Cross Reef as a base for Chinese fighter aircraft. According to Reuters,

China's creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea is happening so fast that Beijing will be able to extend the range of its navy, air force, coastguard and fishing fleets before long, much to the alarm of rival claimants to the contested waters.

Reclamation work is well advanced on six reefs in the Spratly archipelago, according to recently published satellite photographs and Philippine officials. In addition, Manila said this month that Chinese dredgers had started reclaiming a seventh.

Naval commanders are worried that our ability to respond to such threats has been severely compromised by an Obama administration more concerned about rising sea levels than rising threats on those seas. The Navy captain’s Congressional testimony come after the Chinese announcement that it is building its second aircraft carrier to go along with a refurbished Soviet carrier, the Liaonng, commissioned by China in 2012 after extensive refitting of the 25-year-old vessel. As IBD has reported, the Liaoning is only the first step in the building of a blue-water navy capable of competing with our diminishing one, with Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, warning that the U.S. was losing its Pacific dominance to China:

China's Communist Party-affiliated newspaper, Global Times, gloated over Locklear's warning, noting his remarks in a story beneath the headline "U.S. losing grip on Pacific: PACOM."

In the Times story, Jin Canrong, a deputy dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China, said the American admiral's comments recognize China as a rising military power. Indeed, it is. China has launched its first stealth drone, known as Sharp Sword, and is developing indigenous aircraft carriers. Its "two-ocean strategy" is based on the goal of building a fleet of five or six carrier battle groups.

China's first battle group, led by its first carrier, the Liaoning, recently conducted a monthlong exercise that saw the refurbished Soviet-built flattop and her escorts sail south to the waters near Taiwan. During the exercise, a Chinese warship nearly collided with the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens, which was shadowing the battle group.

China is preparing for a naval confrontation with the United States. We may lose that confrontation in the South China Sea because the U.S. Navy is scavenging for spare parts.

Daniel John Sobieski is a freelance writer whose pieces have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, Human Events, Reason Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times among other publications.               

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