In the name of efficiency, the US Navy has cut crew sizes, scaled back training and spare parts stocks, and increased dependence on contractors to support the fleet.
These were massive changes for a force that prided itself on self-sufficiency. Sailors helped maintain their ships, could repair complex systems while underway, had reserves of spare parts and could even make their own. And extra bodies were handy in the event of an emergency.
As America shifts its focus to Asia, where China is developing capabilities to challenge US forces, top US commanders are realizing that a model born when US forces could sail uncontested raises potentially dangerous vulnerabilities in wartime.
In a future conflict, just-in-time deliveries of spare parts and civilian contractors may be interrupted. Sailors will have to fight and fix their ships on their own.
The good news is, the leadership gets it. The hard part involves smartly unwinding bad practices.
The Navy’s overgrown tangle of inspections, tests and inane reporting requirements that consume precious time and effort from a smaller force must be cleared and replaced with simpler holistic standards.
And training and education, spare parts stocks and self-repair capabilities — as well as experimentation — must be bolstered to telegraph to America’s friends and potential enemies that in a future scrape, the Navy can take a licking, but keep on ticking.