Spencer: U.S. Navy Can Only Meet Half of its Tasking

Secretary Spencer (center) at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in September (file image courtesy USN)

By The Maritime Executive 12-06-2017 06:55:27

The U.S. Navy has warned for years that budget shortfalls and high-tempo global operations are stretching its resources too thin. On Wednesday, Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer gave insight into the size of the gap between the service's capabilities and the work it is being asked to perform. 

"I'm not saying the Joint Chiefs [of Staff] simply blindly tasked us, but right now we're fulfilling roughly 50 percent of the tasking," he told Military.com at the USNI Defense Forum in Washington. The number aligns with testimony he gave in September before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he said that the Navy was only able to meet about 40 percent of the demand for its warships at any given time. 

Spencer praised the Navy's can-do attitude and its willingness to flex to meet demand, but he expressed concern that if the service is stretched too far, it will begin to experience real consequences – like the deadly collisions involving the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald earlier this year. "A cathartic event is a reason to stand up and go, 'OK, we really have to rethink this,' or at least have the discussion of what the math is behind this . . . as far as resources," he said. 

"We have put $4 billion in a trash can . . . and burned it”

According to the Center for a New American Security, the U.S. military has funded its operations under restrictive continuing resolutions for an average of four out of every ten days for the past six years. Continuing resolutions, or CRs, hold spending at current levels to avoid a government shutdown while Congress works out a new budget; the stopgap measure has become a standard feature of U.S. fiscal policy in recent years.  

The Navy has operated under a continuing resolution for part of every year for the past decade, requiring the service to invent new ways to keep projects going. This inevitably leads to inefficiencies, according to Secretary Spencer. Since 2011, "we have put $4 billion in a trash can, poured lighter fluid on it, and burned it," he told an audience at the USNI Defense Forum. "Four billion is enough to buy  . . . two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 3,000 Harpoon missiles. It's enough to buy us additional capacity that we need. Instead, it's lost, because of . . . the continuing resolution." 

The armed services are currently operating under a continuing resolution that is set to expire on Saturday. Congress may pass another series of CRs covering spending into January while it debates next year's appropriations, or – as President Donald Trump threatened this week – it may allow the government to shut down when the current CR runs out.