- US Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 3rd Class Anthony Rivera
- The US Navy had three aircraft carriers drilling near North Korea and the South China Sea while President Donald Trump toured Asia.
- The Navy’s vice admiral in charge of naval aviation said the exercise was so big it hurt the entire force’s readiness and could continue to cost for a long time.
- Trump recently described the military as getting stronger, but it’s still recovering from low funding levels since the government shutdown in 2011.
The US Navy needs to “dig out of the hole we’re in,” as the force battles readiness risks to its home fleet, according to Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the commander of Naval Air Forces.
Shoemaker told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday that he was going to use the Navy’s West Coast carrier deployments “as a call to action.”
“We are meeting the combatant commanders’ requirements for ready, lethal carriers and air wings forward, but at a tremendous cost to the readiness of our forces at home,” Shoemaker said.
Over the course of the year, the Navy has deployed three of its four West Coast-based carriers — Carl Vinson, Nimitz, and Theodore Roosevelt. To get the carriers up to par, the Navy needed to “cannibalize” parts, including some from East Coast-based forces, which may not have been necessary if the deployments hadn’t heavily favored one coast.
Two of the carriers — Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt — were recently part of a once-in-a-decade show of force, operating side by side in the Pacific Ocean with the Ronald Reagan just a few hundred miles from North Korea.
The exercise added emphasis to President Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, where he spoke to heads of state about the need to crack down on North Korea and to enforce international law in the South China Sea.
The cost of showing force
“To get Carl Vinson, Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt [the three carriers used] ready to deploy in January, June and October of this year, and equip their embarked air wings with the required number of mission-capable jets, 94 strike fighters had to be transferred to and from the maintenance depots or between F-18 squadrons on both coasts,” Shoemaker told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, as the Washington Examiner notes.
“This included pulling aircraft from the fleet replacement squadrons, where our focus should be on training new aviators,” Shoemaker added.
The massive reshuffling of jets leaves non-deployed squadrons without planes to practice on, which will have “detrimental impacts to both retention and future experience levels” of those pilots, according to Shoemaker.
These deployments, Shoemaker said, caused “several hundred” parts to be “cannibalized,” or taken from other jets to fix the F-18s going on the carriers. The task decimated the “readiness of squadrons” and added “significantly and unnecessarily to the workload of our maintainers,” according to Shoemaker.
In total, Shoemaker reported that 300 sailors had to be reassigned to complete the task, and he expects it to affect the Navy’s ability to retain talent.
The military is hurting, and Trump might not get it
In September, Shoemaker said in a Navy release that naval planes for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance had decreased by 81 while the demands on the remaining aircraft only grew. The military’s readiness has suffered across the board since the sequestration took hold in 2011, freezing the military’s funding while demands on all services only grew.
Though the US’s budget includes more money for naval readiness, it seems that the rebuilt, revitalized military often spoken of by Trump has yet to materialize, although the demand for it has grown.
In an interview earlier this month, Trump described the military as “getting stronger” due to increased funding.
“It’s been depleted and now it’s growing very fast,” Trump said.
Editor’s note: An original version of this story linked the Pacific exercise to the Navy’s readiness crisis. This story has been changed to note that Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker’s testimony did not address the Pacific exercise and focused on carrier deployment.