The U.S. Navy, with 280 ships, is now far too small to effectively protect this country’s vital interests in the Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Yet on Dec. 14 Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered the Navy to cut additional ships it was planning to build and instead to buy more missiles and airplanes.
The shortage of missiles, torpedoes and spare parts that concerns Mr. Carter is real. But by not rebuilding the fleet, the Obama administration is repeating the blunders of the 1970s—sending sailors and their too few ships on much longer deployments, now trending toward eight and 10 months instead of six. In response, the most experienced sailors and their families, as in the ’70s, are starting to leave the Navy, worsening the other corrosive result of longer deployments: ships and airplanes that break down from a lack of skilled maintenance. The Persian Gulf was recently left without a carrier for two months.
Is the solution to the problem simply a significant increase in the defense budget? No. The source of the problem is not primarily the amount of money, but how that money is spent, or misspent, by the military bureaucracy.
The U.S. currently spends $598 billion on defense, slightly more in inflation-adjusted dollars than in the Reagan administration in 1987, when its defense budget peaked. Reagan-era spending produced a fleet of 594 ships, 15 carriers, 35 Air Force fighter wings, 220 strategic bombers and 20 Army divisions, all with full stocks of missiles and weapons, along with adequate maintenance. Today’s spending has produced a force from a third to half the size, with depleted weapons and low readiness.
The administration’s feeble answer is that our weapons are better, so we need…