Don’t moth­ball Navy ships, give them to al­lies

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Michael Mo­ran

Abit­ter de­bate has raged in the Pen­tagon for sev­eral months about the wis­dom of tak­ing the nu­clear air­craft car­rier Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton out of ser­vice to save money. The Wash­ing­ton, at 24 years old a rel­a­tively young ves­sel, is due for a costly re­fit, a rou­tine pro­ce­dure that all of the 11 large car­ri­ers in ser­vice un­dergo reg­u­larly. The Navy fought hard against moth­balling the gi­ant ship. But De­fence Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel has warned that when the two-year re­prieve Congress granted from se­quester cuts ex­pires in 2016, the Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton will be back on the chop­ping block. More­over, the chief of naval op­er­a­tions said last month that the Navy plans to re­move 11 of its 22 Ti­con­deroga-class cruis­ers from ac­tive duty to save on op­er­at­ing costs, as well as re­mov­ing from ser­vice early the last frigates in the fleet.

But the crit­ics are right. This hardly seems the mo­ment to be scrap­ping them, with China ex­pand­ing its fleet and act­ing ag­gres­sively in the South and East China seas and the on­go­ing need to keep a sig­nif­i­cant car­rier force near the Per­sian Gulf. In­stead, what about tak­ing a page from his­tory and trans­fer­ring sur­plus war­ships to al­lied navies? Imag­ine Aus­tralia, In­dia, Brazil and Bri­tain — lat­ter strug­gling along with no ac­tive car­rier at mo­ment — op­er­at­ing the five old­est ac­tive-duty US car­ri­ers. The of­fer of such su­per­power bling might prove ir­re­sistible, even with high main­te­nance costs that come with them.

There is am­ple prece­dent. When World War II ended, the US Navy had a fleet that in­cluded 28 large air­craft car­ri­ers and 71 smaller es­cort car­ri­ers — more by far than any other na­tion, and far more than the peace­time world seemed to de­mand. Hun­dreds of other war­ships, overnight, went from vi­tal weapons sys­tems to costly main­te­nance in­ven­tory. Many of them found their way to scrap yards, oth­ers to the re­serve fleet, where they sat rust­ing for a few decades be­fore their own date at the break­ing yard came due.

A select few, mixed and min­gled with cap­tured Ger­man bat­tle­ships, Ja­panese subs and some Al­lied hulks, were moored off Bikini Atoll and va­por­ized in an atomic test. But not all of Amer­ica’s wartime in­vest­ment in its huge fleet met such ends. Aware that the cost of keep­ing a ship at sea would be pro­hib­i­tive, the Navy hit on a per­fect way to bal­ance its de­sire to down­size and its need to fill the gap in mar­itime se­cu­rity that Bri­tain’s shrink­ing Royal Navy was cre­at­ing across the globe. Rather than moth­balling ev­ery ship or sell­ing them for scrap, the US trans­ferred en­tire fleets of de­stroy­ers, cruis­ers and other ves­sels to al­lied navies.

For much of the Cold War, in fact, the navies of some of Amer­ica’s clos­est al­lies were led by ships that once fought the Ja­panese off Ok­i­nawa or hunted Ger­man sub­marines in the At­lantic. Greece, Turkey, Spain — as well as Peru, Colom­bia, Ar­gentina and even for­mer en­e­mies like Ja­pan, Italy and West Ger­many — all took de­liv­ery of war­ships they could never have af­forded to build or pur­chase. Dur­ing the 1940s and ’50s, dozens of smaller war­ships were sent to navies around the world, a stop­gap mea­sure to check the sud­den rise of Soviet naval power.

Most of th­ese “trans­ferred hulls,” in Navy par­lance, never again fired a shot in anger — at least not in­ten­tion­ally. Some helped newly in­de­pen­dent coun­tries such as In­dia and the Philip­pines es­tab­lish pro­fes­sional navies in place of colo­nial forces. Oth­ers, par­tic­u­larly in Europe, rep­re­sented a vi­tal stop­gap and de­ter­rent at a time when those na­tions’ post­war re­sources were de­voted to re­con­struc­tion and the Soviet Navy had be­gun its own rise to promi­nence.

In a per­fect world, of course, the enor­mous in­vest­ment that went into build­ing th­ese mag­nif­i­cent ves­sels would be enough jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for keep­ing them at sea — and un­der US com­mand. But that sim­ply is not the world Amer­ica in­hab­its to­day. The mere pres­ence of th­ese be­he­moths in the hands of re­spon­si­ble states makes war less likely. And it avoids the hu­mil­i­at­ing prospect of turn­ing war­ships with years of use­ful ser­vice left in them into float­ing mu­se­ums. The writer is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of a global po­lit­i­cal, in­tegrity and se­cu­rity risk con­sul­tancy and cov­ered US de­fence and in­tel­li­gence pol­icy and the wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan for the BBC and MSNBC. — Cour­tesy: The Los An­ge­les Times

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