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Navy's task: three-ocean strength

By John K. CooleyStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / April 29, 1980


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.

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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."

* 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. . . .