So why was training at such a low level? While the full answer is nuanced, there are two clear reasons: cuts to defense spending and increased OPTEMPO. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. John McCain (R – AZ), Chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Navy Veteran, made the issue clear.
It’s happened because we have not funded – you know whenever you cut defense the first thing that goes is the ones that are easy to cut. Training, readiness, maintenance, those things that, you know, if you cancel a ship then you alienate a certain amount of people who are sponsors of that project. So, the first thing that goes is readiness and training. And readiness and training has gone down and down and down. And they are deploying, let’s talk about the Navy, with fewer ships and greater rapidity of exercising which then cuts down on training cuts down on readiness, et cetera, and the answer in inevitable. And by the way, our service chiefs have been warning about this for several years. This is the product of the last eight years.
Training is Pushed Back
Our active duty and veteran readers know this truth all too well. When OPTEMPO increases or budgets shrink, training is pushed to the edges of the calendar. The GAO testimony demonstrates this clear link. The number of ships in the Navy has decreased by 17% since 1998, yet the number of ships deployed remains unchanged. This reduction, as well as the past nearly two decades of war, has increased the length of ship deployment which, in turn, increased maintenance requirements. What time, then, is left for training? While the Navy has been aware of these challenges and made steps to remedy them, revised operational schedules have not yet gone into effect.
The issue is compounded by overruns in maintenance time. According to GAO’s analysis, aircraft carriers lost a total of 1,103 operational days, surface combatants a total of 6,603 operational days, and submarines a total of 6,220 operational days between fiscal years 2011 and 2016. This equates to losing the use of 0.5 aircraft carriers, three surface combatants, and 2.8 submarines each year.
These Issues Cost Lives
The most damning part of the GAO testimony? These issues have all been brought up before. Congress’ inability to get past partisan squabbling and address real, strategic issues has set the conditions that cost 17 sailors their lives. Our nation has been at war (without an official declaration, mind you) for nearly 20 years. This war has become multigenerational, and the degradation of our military readiness is showing. This represents a clear and present danger to our national security and our strategic positioning globally. Steps need to be taken to remedy the problem. Is this administration up to the task?