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These developments would have a serious impact on the U.S. Navy’s ability to carry out its missions. Several ships will be retired in order to maintain operational schedules, among them seven cruisers and four amphibious vessels, all modern with plenty of service life. Delays in the construction of the Gerald R. Ford, the first of a new class of nuclear carriers, might occur. The procurement of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS)–vital in areas like the Persian Gulf–could be slowed, along with that of submarines and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Indeed, the Navy might have to cancel either the F-35B or C variant of the JSF. If the F-35B is abandoned, that would mean the U.S. Marine Corps would have a much tougher time replacing its current force of AV-8B Harriers, vital for support of amphibious operations.
All this is occurring during a time of growing international tension and turmoil. Indeed, the likelihood of the United States becoming involved in large-scale war is growing, which would see a central role for naval forces. The continuing tensions in Syria and with Iran over its nuclear program are cases in point. There is also the possibility of great power confrontation, as evidenced by the Syrian crisis. Russia has deployed marines to its base at Tartus, with supporting warships. On June 18th, Russia, China and Iran announced a joint military exercise this summer in Syria. This would include as many as 90,000 personnel and 400 aircraft. China reportedly asked Egypt for permission to send 12 ships through the Suez Canal to join Russian forces at Tartus. Such a deployment of Russian and Chinese strength in the Middle East is unprecedented, signifying an ever closer alignment between Moscow and Beijing, aimed at the West. Given the Obama Administration’s decision to concentrate on the Pacific as the primary focus of U.S. naval strength, this could mean that, at a time of growing danger in the Mediterranean (and considering that the NATO allies have severely reduced their power projection capabilities over the past decade and would be unlikely to take up the slack), a power vacuum could emerge, one filled by powers hostile to the Western-led international system and the values it is based upon.
A recent article in the British publication Warships International Fleet Review sums up well the danger of a diminished U.S. naval posture on the world’s oceans:
“If there is one thing that has prevented another major global war it has been the…process of constant vigilance at sea, with multi-layered maritime capabilities. This has since WW2 often provided a graduated response to various crises. Once the carefully constructed naval structure is dismantled, or key elements removed, it creates a situation where conflict is more likely, not less.”
Wise words, indeed.
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