The U.S. Navy is so short of qualified manpower, fighter planes and other vital gear it is struggling to send aircraft carrier battle groups to sea. Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker testified to the House Armed Services Committee last week that in order to “get Carl Vinson, Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt ready to deploy in January, June and October of this year, and equip their embarked air wings with the required number of mission capable jets, 94 strike fighters had to be transferred to and from the maintenance depots or between F-18 squadrons on both coasts. This included pulling aircraft from the fleet replacement squadrons, where our focus should be on training new aviators. That strike fighter inventory management, or shell game, leaves non-deployed squadrons well below the number of jets required to keep aviators proficient and progressing toward their career qualifications and milestones, with detrimental impacts to both retention and future experience levels.” More: “Additionally, to get those air wings ready, several hundred parts had to be cannibalized from other Super Hornets across the force, further decimating the readiness of squadrons and adding significantly and unnecessarily to the workload of our maintainers. From a manning perspective, to fill gaps in those deploying squadrons and the three carriers, over 300 sailors had to be temporarily reassigned from other squadrons, have their orders changed or get extended beyond their normal sea tour lengths, which hurt our sailors — which — which hurts our sailors and their families and has cascading effects on enlisted retention across the force.”

Analyst comment: While we don’t doubt that other great powers have similar staffing and equipment shortfalls and difficulties, this is an unacceptable risk to our national security, period. The Navy is our most visible and powerful forward-deployed force; it’s long history as a tool of U.S. foreign policy is being systematically degraded to the point where shortfalls in gear, tech, manpower and planes will negatively impact its mission, putting the country’s national security objectives at risk. The answer: Real defense budgets, not continuing resolutions, which is all Congress has passed in the past eight years, making it nearly impossible for any branch of the military to plan out military programs and spending. That includes, of course, maintenance, the purchasing of spare parts, and training. 

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