NAPLES, Italy — The Navy must get creative about where it places ships as it increases the number stationed around the globe and away from their homeports in the United States, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert said Thursday during an all-hands forum with sailors in Naples.
The Navy plans to expand to a 300-ship fleet by 2019, up from the current fleet of 285, but shy of a standing goal of 313 ships, Greenert said.
Despite the shift in the U.S. defense posture to focus more heavily on the Pacific, the Navy is not likely to see much change in its already strong presence in the region, Greenert said.
The Navy has about 50 ships deployed to the Pacific area, or about half of the total number of deployed ships.
“That has been that way for some time, and I think that kind of rotation, or something close to it … will be that way for the future,” Greenert said in a subsequent interview with Stars and Stripes.
But there will be some changes in the Pacific, Greenert said.
The Navy plans to base four new Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, putting its modular ships in an area where they can be used for a number of missions, from special operations to combating piracy. And placing ships in Singapore dramatically cuts down transit time across the Pacific, Greenert added.
“It’ll be a different mix of ships in 2019. It’ll be a slightly different mix of ships in 2017 [than today] as we evolve,” Greenert said. “Frigates will retire, some of the mine sweepers will start to retire, Littoral Combat Ships will come in, joint high-speed vessels will come in. The number of cruisers and destroyers will remain about the same … the number of submarines are slowly going down, and that’s a very big concern of mine. We’re starting with 55 today; we’ll be at 50 by 2017.”
In the Mideast, Greenert said, the Navy would like to double the number of patrol boats in Bahrain, increasing the fleet of five patrol boats there now by moving some that are currently stationed in Virginia.
But Greenert said the importance of Europe has not diminished.
Sailors in Europe “will be as busy as they have been before,” Greenert said in subsequent remarks to reporters. “This focus on Asia-Pacific and the Middle East won’t change the importance of NATO and the European theater. In fact, a major part of our changes for the future [is] the establishment … in Rota of four destroyers. That’s a major step and, in fact, the largest ship change, we have out there.”
Last week, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the four Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers heading for Rota, Spain, include three from Norfolk, Va.: the USS Ross, the USS Donald Cook, and the USS Porter, and one from Mayport, Fla.: the USS Carney. The ships, equipped with missile defense capabilities, are part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach to enhance security in Europe.
The Ross and Donald Cook will arrive in fiscal 2014, and Carney and Porter in fiscal 2015, according to Mabus.
But the Navy’s immediate fiscal responsibility lies with addressing maintenance needs, especially at a time when the operational tempo is 40 percent higher. Last year, a fifth of the Navy’s ships fell short of combat readiness, a shortfall the sea service is slowly rectifying, Greenert told Stars and Stripes.
“We have increased proficiency by our crews to do planned maintenance,” Greenert said. “The kids are understanding the systems better. They’re getting the inspections done. Minor problems are being identified and repaired before they become major problems … [and] we have to continue this march uphill to make sure that we man the ships with the right skill levels and the right supervisory levels.”
Greenert is in Naples to attend Friday’s change of command ceremony in which Vice Adm. Bruce Clingan, who has been approved for promotion to the rank of admiral, will replace Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa.