The Navy did not make this decision to make a point. Our job is to provide combat-ready naval forces to commanders around the world. We do that after a healthy discussion about national interests and available resources, a due process that includes the Joint Chiefs, the Navy staff and the secretaries of Navy and Defense. The final decision about the USS Truman was made – rightly – by Secretary Leon Panetta, based on options presented to him.
Without a spending bill this year and no flexibility to supplement our operating accounts, those options were pretty simple: Either send the Truman on time and maintain a dual-carrier presence in the Gulf region through this year and not much longer; find some other non-Navy way to source the requirement; or delay the Truman’s departure and deploy it some months later under a single-carrier plan we could safely support well into 2015.
Could money have been found somewhere, anywhere, to pay for the Truman’s deployment? Maybe. But without the ability to transfer money from other accounts, there aren’t many places from which we could have taken it without a greater cost to readiness elsewhere. And doing so obscures the real issue.
This was never about saving the cost of a single deployment. It was about managing risk across the joint force and about preserving our ability to keep a robust naval presence longer in that part of the world.
It was also more in keeping with the global force management plan, or “GFMAP” as we like to call it in Pentagon-speak. That’s the plan that sets out the official requirement for military forces around the world. More importantly, it’s the plan for which we are officially funded.
The GFMAP calls for a single carrier in the Middle East. But since December 2010, we have been trying to meet an additional request by U.S. Central Command for two.
Even before all this budget uncertainty, meeting that request was becoming increasingly difficult. The deployable carrier fleet went down to 10 with the retirement of the USS Enterprise. Then it went down to nine when we had to lay up the Abraham Lincoln for an overhaul – an overhaul, by the way, that we also won’t be able to start due to a lack of funds.
Typically it takes three ships back home to produce one forward-deployed. With the USS George Washington permanently deployed to the Western Pacific and two carriers formerly required in the Gulf region – well, you can do the math and see how hard it was getting to make it all work out.
The bottom line is this: Were it not for Secretary Panetta’s decision to delay the Truman and relieve us from having to keep two aircraft carriers in the Middle East, the Navy would have been unable to keep combat-ready forces there on anything resembling a stable schedule much past the end of this summer.
The secretary prudently chose stability over unpreparedness. But he also made us promise to keep the Truman and its crew as ready as possible should a crisis emerge somewhere. We’re going to do just that.
We are acutely aware of the added stress all this uncertainty causes our sailors, civilians and their families, not to mention local communities and our industry partners.
But we’ve been nothing if not vocal over the past year about the likely impacts of sequestration and the lack of a spending bill. The decisions being made, though certainly newsworthy, shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Look, military leaders don’t make decisions to make a point. We don’t do drama. And we don’t involve ourselves in political debates. We provide options to civilian leaders that help them better protect and defend Americans. And that’s exactly what delaying the Truman allows us all to do.
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