Gates tells Navy it’s not the size that counts
OXON HILL, Md. — The Navy must be more flexible to engage in today’s conflicts and less worried about the size of its fleet, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday.
“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Gates asked. “Any future plans must address these realities.”
In a pointed speech about the future of the naval arsenal, the secretary told a gathering of naval officers and contractors that no U.S. adversaries are attempting to out-build the U.S. fleet. Rather, he said, they are developing other ways to neutralize U.S. power. He cited Hezbollah’s anti-ship missiles and Iran’s use of everything from cruise missiles to “swarming speedboats.”
In response, he called for more shallow-water capabilities, long-range drones and sea-based missile defenses.
“As we learned last year, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates wielding AK-47s and RPGs,” Gates said.
Just 10 percent of the $190 billion the Pentagon asked from Congress for the coming fiscal year “is dedicated exclusively to equipment optimized for counterinsurgency, security assistance, humanitarian operations, or other so-called low-end capabilities,” he said.
Gates’ warnings on mismatching naval strategies to spending were a preview of a major speech on defense spending planned for Saturday at the Kansas presidential library of Dwight D. Eisenhower, who coined the phrase “military-industrial complex.”
“It is important to remember that, as much as the U.S. battle fleet has shrunk since the end of the Cold War, the rest of the world’s navies have shrunk even more,” Gates said. “So, in relative terms, the U.S. Navy is as strong as it has ever been.”
Where the U.S. has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, no other country has one. Where the U.S. has 10 large-deck amphibious ships, the nearest peers have three, and they are all allies.
“The U.S. has 57 nuclear-powered attack and cruise-missile submarines — again, more than the rest of the world combined,” he said.
Instead, the Navy needs more “long-range unmanned aircraft and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities,” Gates said.
Gates also called for new sea-based missile defenses, a key component of the Obama administration’s European missile defense plan announced last fall. The new plan redirects previous strategies that relied on ground-based interceptors to a new defense more reliant on mobile, shorter-ranged Aegis shipboard missile systems.