The Drift

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Navigation Brief

(This post first published March 19 as an e-newsletter)

ALEXANDRIA – Good Evening, Drifters

This has been a really hard few days for all of us and, just like last week, you don’t need my takes on COVID-19. That’s not what this email is for. All I’ll say is that I believe we’re going to be ok. I think about my Great Grandmother McKnight who lived through WWI in Britain with all its shortages and deprivations; she moved to the United States and immediately was hit with the Great Depression; then lived through WWII in Rochester, New York, with much of her family off to war. She was one tough old lady: lived on her own until she was 101. Our society has been through tough times and we’ve always been up to the challenge. We’ll make it through this as well.

So, let’s turn our minds to matters naval, shall we?

I remember back in the day I used to get excited to see two carriers operating together down range. It’s a real symbol of American power, it’s an awesome picture and I think there is a rea deterrent effect that you get from it.

That’s what’s happening now. The Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower and operating together in the Arabian Sea, as per this Navy news release, and we’re supposed to be inspired by that. And, sure, it’s still cool, but I’m not inspired as much as I am aggravated by it.

That’s what I want to talk about tonight.

Let’s Drift.



Last week I linked this article in The Drift, and I want to revisit it because it’s worth revisiting:

CENTCOM Commander: Middle East Aircraft Carrier Presence Key to Deterring Iran

The article came from an exchange between Hampton Roads;’ Rep. Elaine Luria who was pressing Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie on carrier presence in the Persian Gulf. It’s worth opening that up a little more and seeing more of that exchange.

You can watch that here: Rep. Luria Questions Witnesses at Hearing on National Security Challenges in the Middle East

The key statement, I believe, is this one from Gen. McKenzie:

The Quote:“It is my best judgment that we have reestablished a form of rough deterrence – what I would call contested deterrence with Iran in the – in the wake of the striking of Quasem Soleimani and the attack on our bases.

“And part of that is based, and part of that deterrence is obtained by our obvious force presence in the theater. Force presence that was not there in the spring of 2019 that led them to undertake the cycle of violence that culminated in January.”

Oh, man, the COCOMs just love them some aircraft carrier presence, don’t they?

USNI has done some great work documenting that we were at a historic ebb of US carrier presence in the Middle East and elsewhere as the US was supposed to be deemphasizing the Middle East, recovering readiness, and pivoting toward “great power competition” with China and Russia.

Here’s what the National Defense Strategy says the US policy goals in the Middle East are:

“Form enduring coalitions in the Middle East. We will foster a stable and secure Middle East that denies safe havens for terrorists, is not dominated by any power hostile to the United States, and that contributes to stable global energy markets and secure trade routes. We will develop enduring coalitions to consolidate gains we have made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, to support the lasting defeat of terrorists as we sever their sources of strength and counterbalance Iran.”

That sounds like something different that a big, beefy presence in the Middle East with two aircraft carriers. Look, I get it: the world gets a vote. The Navy has to be responsive to the world situation. But operating two carriers in the Arabian Sea does two things:

  • Continues to undercut the idea that we are pivoting our high-end forces toward Russia and China
  • Eats up a ton of readiness

Let’s recall that the carrier Abraham Lincoln just got back from one of the longest Navy deployments since Vietnam. Now we’re continuing to burn readiness by having two aircraft carriers operating together for an unannounced length of time instead of putting Central Command back on the supply-based diet it had been on before the latest confrontation with Iran.

And don’t miss what McKenzie said: He’s making the case that Iran started acting up in part because the Navy had stopped sending carriers to the Middle East. He’s not going to back down on his demands, despite the enormous burden this puts on the Navy’s deployment system, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan.

The whole point of OFRP was to be able to make the case to the Joint Staff and to the Secretary of Defense that the Navy could only deploy what was fully manned, trained and equipped, and only for a set period of time. And in exchange, the Navy offered more availability post deployment by funding an extended period of heightened readiness for surge availability in a crisis.

Read more about that here: The US Navy’s vaunted deployment plan is showing cracks everywhere

Evidence suggests the supply-based model the Navy was pushing is failing. Even if this is just a heel-to-toe turnover period, that costs readiness that the Navy will then have to recoup. And we shouldn’t forget that when Truman comes back, the Navy will have to fund elevated readiness and perhaps send her back out if Iran starts acting up and CENTCOM wants another carrier.

The old demand-based Navy is making a comeback, and we know where that leads.

On to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

Back to reality, unfortunately.

Here’s some of the big impacts of COVID-19:

Navy postpones promotions for 160,000 sailors until further notice amid coronavirus concerns

Coronavirus cases break out across the Navy

Maine lawmakers want contract relief, quicker payments for industry to combat COVID-19 impact

Federal contractors pressure OMB to let them telework

NATO points to ‘severe consequences’ on global budgets from coronavirus crisis