After more than a decade of intensive ground combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is facing a security environment very different from that which defined the first years of the 21st century.
The threats facing the United States abroad are increasingly maritime in nature, whether it’s China’s aggressive behavior in the Western Pacific, Iran’s posturing over the Strait of Hormuz, or the menace of global seaborne piracy. Given the nature of our likely challenges, the coming decade promises to be one defined by seapower and projection forces, namely the U.S. Navy and Air Force. It is imperative that the President and Congress begin adequately resourcing these forces to handle the tasks our nation will ask of them.
The U.S. Navy’s current fleet of 283 ships is set to decline even further in the coming decade, despite the Navy’s repeated assertion that 306 ships is the minimum required to execute current missions. In the coming years, the Navy will experience shortfalls in key categories of ships, including submarines, major surface combatants, and amphibious ships.
The Air Force is operating the smallest number of aircraft in its history, with an average age of 26 years. The Air Force is likely to fall significantly below its stated requirement for bombers over the next decade, with those that remain dramatically exceeding their originally planned service life.
In order to ensure that our Navy and Air Force is prepared for upcoming challenges, the Obama Administration must begin investing now for the future. This requires asking tough questions about the state of our current force and the missions we assign it. Even before sequestration threatened havoc on our military’s readiness, the Navy’s declining ship numbers were reducing our Combatant Commanders’ (COCOM) flexibility in protecting U.S. interests.
In 2007, the Navy was able to meet 90 percent of all COCOM demands—today, only 51 percent of such requirements are met. While the Navy states that between 14 and 16 attack submarines should be available to COCOM at any given time, the service is currently able to supply roughly 10.
The nature of America’s challenges mean that a modern, fully resourced Navy and Air Force are not luxuries—without them, the U.S. will be unable to uphold its global interests in the years ahead. I will continue to ask the difficult questions of our military’s uniformed and civilian leadership to ensure that the men and women who so selflessly serve this country are never denied the tools they need to deter, prevent, and, if absolutely necessary, win America’s wars.
Representative J. Randy Forbes (R–VA) is chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and Co-Chairman of the Navy–Marine Corps Caucus.