Navy's task: three-ocean strength

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

As the US armed services began their assessment of the aborted hostage rescue mission in Iran, Adm. Thomas B. Hayward, The Chief of Naval Operations, granted the monitor an exclusive interview. Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and other senior officials already were publicly discussing the specifics of the Iran situation. The Monitor agrred with Admiral Hayward to deal with the broader aspects of the Navy's present state of readiness and its future.

The admiral is a former Navy pilot and a scholar of international affairs. He commanded the Pacific Fleet before assuming the Navy's top post in 1978. He made these main points:m

* The US Navy today is a "fine Navy," more combat-capable than any time since Vietnam. But it is losing its highly trained and skilled personnel to better-paying civilian jobs so fast that some ships are temporarily paralyzed in port. The impact of the skilled personnel loss has become "dramatic."

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* The Afghan and Iranian crises have created a need for a large naval force in the Indian Ocean. This has weakened Atlantic and Pacific capabilities, since the US now must deal with a "three-ocean requirement with a 1 1/2-ocean Navy." Allies of the US could do more to help in the Indian Ocean.

* As US Navy combat capabilities rise through acquisition of more and more sophisticated equipment, the Soviet fleet swiftly raises its submarine threat and its missile-firing and air capabilities in particular.

The questions and answers:

Is the Navy now ready to fight a semiglobal war, or even a global war, if it had to tomorrow?

There are really two different ways to look at [the question of] "are we ready?" One has to do. . . with ship material condition; with support in terms of ammunition, weapons, its training.

The Navy's readiness in those areas has been improving steadily since shortly after the Vietnam war. . . . The same thing goes for training. Even though we don't steam as much as any fleet commander would like to steam, we steam enough to that he can keep his training readiness up at an acceptable level. And we have made fleet exercises more complicated, which has added to our total competence as an organization.

Only recently has the decline in total quality of the Navy's personnel issue shown up in readiness. You can have a decline for awhile, and not really have a dramatic impact. It is now reaching a point where the impact is dramatic.

. . . and here we get into retention.

Now we're in the retention issue. So that units now are in fact deploying in what we classify as a "C-3," or marginally combat-ready condition. . . Three years or so ago, we never had to deploy a unit in that condition. And today, it's almost inevitably related to the personnel shortfall.

Further. . . there is the Navy's global responsibilities and the three-ocean requirement. . . the three oceans obviously being the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. . . That problem has been coming on us steadily since the late 1960s, as our naval size has declined. And that goes in terms of both ships and aircraft squadrons.

For awhile, as we came down in size, we also declined in capability. We weren't replacing units as fast as we should. But over the last four or five years or so, the quality of the Navy, the quality of our fighting capabilities, has been increasing because of the sophistication that we have intentionally designed and built into our ships and our airplane squadrons -- the sensors, the sonars, the radars, the jamming equipment, the communications systems, all those things that go into naval warfare today.

So, though we have declined in numbers over the last three years, we've improved capability. . . .

But in spite of the fact that we're going to increase by 30 or 40 ships, thaths not enough to give us the three-ocean capability, simultaneously. It just isn't there. We will still be a 1 1/2-ocean navy, basically.

Admiral [Elmo] Zumwalt [Chief of Naval Operations from 1970-74] stated more strongly the Indian Ocean requirement back in his day. . . . We have [the Indian Ocean base of] Diego Garcia because of his foresight in recognizing the strategic importance of that area of the world to our interests and the NATO interest. . . .

Regrttably, that Soviet capability is also improving. Even though they are not increasing their numbers of ships, they are improving their quality. So, their capability is growing. . . and will continue to grow.

Can you single out any special field of dramatic Soviet improvement? . . .

Their Task is. . . to prevent us from operating in [certain] waters: the Northwest PAcific, the North Pacific, the Indian Pcean, the Mediterranean, the Norwegian Sea. Those are the areas where they'd like to impede our ability to operate. . . . I classify it as a sea denial mission. . . .

So you see the Soviets, with a very large submarine force, and a very large-based, long-range bomber force are doing [what for them is] the sensible thing. That's what we would do if we were defending the coastline of the United States.

The things the Soviets have done that are impressive have to do with standoff missiles that are launched from air, surface, and subsurface platforms. . . .

Waht is first on your purchase list?

I've said very forcefully that the first thing on the Navy's list is to fix the manpower problem and that costs money. It isn't just done with better leadership and more motivation. We have good leadership in the Navy today, and our people are motivated. they're doing a super job. That's not to suggest that we can't do a better job. We are working constantly to try to be better naval leaders.

But the first priority is to fix this compensation issue so that our retention problem is manageable. That does cost money.

As you have said before, the order of priorities is people, aircraft, and then ships. Do you feel that the Nunn-Warner amendment [now before Congress] is a move in the right direction in the people department?

Absolutely, without any question. I wholeheartedly support the Nunn-Warner amendment. It particularly emphasizes assistance to career people, and that's where we ought to be putting our emphasis. It will help enormously those individuals living in high-cost areas. . . .

We'll be able to compensate our people for traveling. We order people in the military from base to base. It's not a voluntary choice on their part to go. They can't say, "I don't like that and I think I'll leave." . . . It's compulsory that they move. And yet today we reimburse them, their cost of moving, to [only] about 50 percent of the actual cost. . . . No [private] company does that today, anywhere.

What is the truth about the Navy ships reported to be laid up at Norfolk because of personnel shortages?

The Canisteo [an old fleet oiler] had been in that condition for about 2 1/2 weeks prior to the time that story came out. . . I've advised the national leadership very carefully that we were going in that direction and this day was coming. . . . In the Atlantic Fleet, the number of ships in the most degraded condition because of lack of personnel has gone up from about six or seven on the average to about 20 now. . . . This is why I've been arguing so hard to adress the retention issue. . . .

This is not going to be permanent. No ship is going to be decommissioned because of not enough people. . . . It's a matter of distributing inadequate resources . . . [Losing trained people always leaves an aftereffect]. We're still short 21,000 individuals, after 16,000 last year. Will it be 28,000 next year? I hope not. . . . Remember that we presently have 20,000 people on one-year extensions. . . trying to see if things will change and improve. [If they do improve], you'll see people stick around.

We have had to pull carriers and other forces out of the Far East and Mediterranean. how have our allies reacted?

I think our NATO allies are concerned that the Sixth Fleet [in the Mediterranean] is not as strong as it was, but they also understand where it is, and that it's in their own best interest that that force be in the Indian Ocean. . . . We need more support from our allies in the Indian Ocean. The Australians, especially, are being extremely forthcoming and helpful.

I can't believe that this country ever wants to have a second-best navy. . . . The President said in his State of the Union message, and Defense Secretary Brown has said it several times: We're going to maintain the best navy in the world. . . . The President's five-year plan must come to fruition, just to hold at the minimum strength that I think we need. I'm going to be arguing for more than that, as forcefully as I can.

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