Lehman Calls for a Bigger Navy
The man probably responsible for America’s current unmatched naval superiority (next to Ronald Reagan of course) offers up a dramatic remembrance of Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, before making his true point known to us. Here is former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman:
Our fleet today has shrunk from 600 to 270 and is heading for 150. We have cut carriers from Reagan’s 15 to Obama’s 10. But we can’t argue with geography: The seas still cover 70 percent of the world, and our vital trade and allies are far more global than in TR’s day. With this shrinking fleet, we can no longer deter piracy and guarantee freedom of the seas.
It is indeed wise to talk with our enemies, but we must understand that successful diplomacy is the shadow cast by power, especially naval power. Iran, North Korea and other disturbers of the peace must be made to understand that our genuine wish for peaceful solutions is underwritten by the real naval power to, in TR’s words “smite our enemies down” if they pursue hostilities.
Secretary Lehman didn’t create the 600 ship Navy concept, but it was he who forced the issue as Naval Secretary from 1981-87. Capabilities are wondrous things and America’s warships are certainly among the most capable and powerful on earth. But there comes a time, especially in wartime, where warships become used up and there must be numbers to replace them. Many small hulls are better than a few exquisite ones for the mainly benign threats we most often contend with, from pirates in speedboats to Iranian swarm tactics or soft power missions.
Despite having won the Cold War, America’s tiny fleet is still running at Cold War tempos and have been since the 1990s. Though few make the headlines, our sailors are everywhere, showing the flag and supporting naval missions around the world in the War on Terror. We can’t keep such an operation ongoing with diminishing resources. Something has to give and I fear it will be missions and the breaking of ties with old allies if the Navy’s single-minded obsession with building battle-force capable ships isn’t drastically curtailed.
Good to see someone with clout taking a stand on this important issue for our naval future.