From the halls of Montezuma, to the shores of … Jacksonville? The long “atrophy” of US Navy ship counts has made it impossible to guarantee that the Marine Corps can rapidly deploy for operations when needed around the world, a degradation in capability that ironically may have indirectly emerged during the Benghazi attack. The US Marine Corps will have to look for a few good ships from other nations while the US gets its act together on adequate naval resources for its mission:
Faced with a shortage of U.S. Navy ships, the Marine Corps is exploring a plan to deploy its forces aboard foreign vessels to ensure they can respond quickly to global crises around Europe and western Africa.
The initiative is a stopgap way to deploy Marines aboard ships overseas until more American vessels are available, said Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling, deputy commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa.
The Marines will be able to respond quickly to evacuate embassies or protect U.S. property and citizens, a need highlighted by the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador.
“There’s no substitute for U.S. amphibious” vessels, Cooling said. “We’re looking at other options” in the meantime, he added.
The other options are basically to hitch a ride to the battle. We ended up providing that service to the EU during the early intervention in the Balkans wars, as our European allies discovered that they lacked the logistical capacity to respond on their own. Now we’re being forced to do the same thing, and as Cooling says, it will take more than a year to make those arrangements. In the meantime, the Marines will necessarily be limited by our own failure to keep up with our logistical needs.
But the bigger issue is strategic needs, not logistical needs. Hugh Hewitt has beat the drum repeatedly on the falling levels of naval forces. He routinely queries presidential hopefuls on what levels of shipping in the US Navy, including in this recent interview with former Navy Secretary James Webb. The former Senator announced an exploration effort for the Democratic presidential nomination, but hasn’t done much since. Webb agrees with Hugh that the US Navy has become dangerously under-resourced:
HH: You are very on top of the Navy, the naval issues, and not surprising, having been secretary of the Navy. You see what China is doing. Are we funding adequately a ship count? Do you think we’re even close to what we need? And I always ask people about not having a replacement for the Ohio-Class nuclear submarine, but in every category of ship? Are we even close, Senator Webb?
JW: We’re not close, and the other issue with respect to China and its expansionism is that we are not properly addressing in diplomatic and economic terms what China has been doing, because for fifteen years, they have been marking sovereignty issues on territories that are legitimately contested by other countries. And just over the past three years, I wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal three years ago talking about how they had created a new political prefecture in that region, two million square kilometers of territory out there in the South China Sea that reports directly to Beijing. China is building a deep water navy, blue water navy. In fact, the Chinese and the Russians are going to hold joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean this summer. And our navy has gone from 568 ships when I was secretary of the Navy, and much more than that, actually, when I was commissioned, down to about, in the 280s now. And in the future, I think that the size of our Navy should be up well above 300.
If we’re forcing our Marines to hitch rides on foreign ships to meet strategic threats and emergencies, then we’re clearly on the wrong path. Both the White House and Congress should answer for this lack of capacity, and provide answers on how they plan to fix it — and fast.