More than a fifth of America’s Navy ships are not ready to fight. And almost 40 percent of the time, deployed ships are not fully mission capable due to a defect in at least one “mission essential” system, according to a recently released congressional report. If that is not startling enough, the number of combat vessels on the Navy’s sick list is set to skyrocket. And America’s naval aircraft are in an even more shocking state. More than half of all F/A-18 Hornets are not fully mission capable. F/A-18s are the Navy’s main fighter aircraft. Disrepair is so endemic that for every two jets deployed, one cannot perform a critical mission due to breakdowns.
The House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee’s July report leaves only one conclusion to be drawn, and it is not a reassuring one: America’s naval power is vastly overestimated, and its power projection capabilities are set to drastically shrink.
The report paints a sobering picture: America has reached peak power—and is now well down the back slope. This is not what a superpower is supposed to look like.
America’s allies in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, and especially Taiwan, New Zealand, Australia and Israel, should pay particular attention to this news.
“Our Navy already has insufficient resources to preserve its current fleet, let alone reverse the negative trends of years of underfunding, deferred maintenance and gaping holes in Navy readiness,” said subcommittee Chairman Randy Forbes.
And it is not just one politician sounding the alarm. “We’re not at a sustainable rate” of deployment, said Vice Adm. William Burke, the deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics. With ongoing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, in addition to fighting pirates in the Indian Ocean and aiding disaster victims in Japan and Pakistan, the wear and tear is becoming obvious. Then there is securing the Persian Gulf oil flow, checking Chinese aggression in the Pacific, and countering Russia’s resurgence in the Arctic. The list goes on.
We’re simply “not good to go today,” said Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command. Due to the constant demand for naval forces, some of the readiness indicators “will get worse.”
The stories the two admirals tell are startling. The fleet is structurally in poor shape. Its ships carry damaged gear and insufficient spare parts; they have advanced weapons and sensors that are unreliable. Of the Navy’s 22 cruisers in service, every single one has cracks in its aluminum superstructure. The Navy’s fighter aircraft are designed for a 6,000-flight-hour life, but they are being forced toward 10,000 hours. Over half of all EA-18G Growlers and P-3C Orion spy planes are not ready for combat because of various maintenance and safety issues.
As bad as this report is, though, the situation may actually be a lot worse.
A well-known secret circulates within naval circles; everyone among the rank and file knows it, but officials don’t like to acknowledge it. It is called fleet cannibalism. In order to avoid getting cited during an inspection for not having functional gear, crews will borrow equipment from other ships—and then return it after the inspectors leave. Thus, even with reports as bad as they are, the implication is that even worse disrepair and equipment shortages exist. As the Navy adopts the more rigorous inspections the vice admirals propose, even bigger problems will probably be exposed.
One big problem, however, will not be so easy to track down and patch up.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. administration launched a penny-pinching initiative designed to cut costs but keep as large a military as possible. Rather than using only custom, government-made military products at higher cost, federal agencies were encouraged to purchase commercial, off-the-shelf hardware in some cases. The money for secure, trusted, domestic electronics manufacturers dried up, and a bumper crop of smaller, bargain-bin parts brokers sprang up—businesses that got their products from who-knows-where.
The government also introduced affirmative-action goals that required the military and other agencies to purchase equipment from ethnic minority and women-owned suppliers—even if better products existed elsewhere.
The result produced more than just enormous cost savings, allowing America to keep more soldiers and sailors. It also created some gaping security holes.
In 2008, Naval Air Systems Command expert Robert Ernst reiterated a startling warning. Foreign-manufactured military components—especially computer chips—were exposing America to sabotage. He estimated at the time that foreign counterfeit components were degrading weapon system reliability by 5 to 15 percent each year. “We are having field failures regularly within our weapon systems—and in almost every weapon system,” he reported.
The warnings and revelations, however, did nothing to halt the trend. The military simply could not overcome the stark and growing realities driving much of the increase in foreign chip acquisition: squeezed defense budgets, aging military equipment draining resources, the skyrocketing cost of new equipment, and growing ranks of pensioned personnel.
In October 2010, it was revealed that the Navy had unknowingly purchased 59,000 counterfeit computer chips from China for use aboard American warships and fighter planes, in a classified Raytheon missile system and in antiballistic missile systems. Not long before that, two California men pleaded guilty to importing 13,000 fake Chinese-made computer chips.
But that is the good news: The military caught those fakes. The question remains, however, how many other potentially compromised chips have gone undetected.
Sabotaged or otherwise poorly constructed computer chips are called “hardware Trojans”—after the famed stratagem used to topple Troy: the gift of a wooden horse that secretly contained crack Greek troops. It is feasibly impossible to thoroughly inspect each chip, so no one really knows what is already lurking inside the bowels of otherwise operational equipment. How many “hardware Trojans” now lie dormant in military equipment just waiting for the signal to self-destruct, or worse?
As the revelation about the 59,000 fake Chinese chips illustrates, America has knowingly opened the gates to allow these potential Trojan horses inside its sturdiest walls of defense—and by the boatload.
But if the debt-laden economy continues to sink, there may be a whole lot fewer potentially sabotaged ships sailing the seas anyway.
Militaries cost money, and none more than America’s. The United States has spent more on defense than any nation in history: close to a billion dollars a day, every day, for over six decades—more than the rest of the world combined.
But those days are coming to an abrupt end. America is getting crushed by debt, and such spending is simply no longer sustainable.
The U.S. currently spends around $700 billion per year on the military. President Obama has asked for $400 billion in cuts spread over the next 12 years—but that is just the starting point.
President Obama’s choice to replace Defense Secretary Robert Gates with former cia director Leon Panetta is further evidence that drastic cuts are coming. You don’t remove America’s most trusted commander while he is in the midst of managing three wars in Muslim nations unless he has made a major mistake, or big changes are in the works. Replacing him with a man who earned a reputation for his ability to successfully navigate the mine-infested waters of defense-budget cutting while serving in the Clinton White House gives good reason to believe that this will be his job again.
But how much more “cost cutting” can the fleet handle before it has to start mothballing ships? It is already cracking under the strain.
America’s Navy has shrunk by 15 percent since 1998. Yet, the number of ships deployed overseas has remained constant. What this means is that America’s fleet is being used and abused more intensively each year—even as the fleet is rapidly aging. Each ship goes to sea longer and is used more heavily. According to the Heritage Foundation, there is “no surge capacity left in the fleet,” and “each new casualty ripples through the schedules of dozens of ships.”
It wouldn’t take much to render a navy of 250 to 280 ships “capable of keeping only 50 to 60 ships at sea,” writes Heritage. The U.S. fleet currently boasts 100 ships continually deployed.
But could the world’s largest, most powerful navy ever really suffer such dramatic cuts? Could half the navy be scuttled? It sounds drastic—but look at what happened to the Soviet Union. Surely collapse seemed equally implausible to Russians in 1986. Russia seemed to be at the peak of its power when Mikhail Gorbachev came into office. Then, in 1989, the Berlin Wall tumbled and a few short years later the mighty Russian Navy was mothballing ships by the hundreds.
It is hard to picture dozens of rusting, scavenged hulks haphazardly littering eerily silent harbors in San Diego or Norfolk. Yet via Google Earth images, the world can literally see the dozens of rusting naval hulks haphazardly littering the harbor in Murmansk and elsewhere. These provide stark proof of what happens after an empire’s economy reaches peak military carrying capacity. In Russia’s case, the plateau after the peak was very short—and the sudden collapse, very cliff-like.
Already there is talk of eliminating one of America’s aircraft carriers and delaying the scheduled purchase of the next two. And that is before any fallout from America’s budget-ceiling negotiations—and before the reality of a post-economic-peak has fully begun to be realized.
“[T]he biggest threat to our national security is our national debt,” Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told students at Fort Bliss in March.
“The whole thing [European force cuts] is being driven by the U.S. defense budget and the deficiencies in the American budget as a whole,” confirmed defense analyst Charles Heyman. As politicians and military commanders face off, he said, “The politicians are always going to be right because they hold the purse strings. … At some stage in the next 18 months to two years we’re going to see a real ax taken to the American defense budget.”
A real ax? In the past two years, more than 30 defense-related programs have been “canceled, capped or ended,” according to Robert Gates. Among them: plans for a long-range bomber; the F-22 program; the Joint Forces Command in Norfolk; two Pentagon agencies. The nation’s nuclear stockpiles are to be reduced by 30 percent; the missiles, subs and bombers used to deliver them, halved. The ranks of admirals and generals have been thinned. Hundreds of military bases have closed.
Earlier this year, Secretary Gates announced $78 billion in long-term military spending cuts and an additional $100 billion in reallocations. The Navy axed the U.S. Second Fleet, which trains all strike groups before deployment. The Army canceled a missile system. The Air Force consolidated three numbered Air Force staffs. The Marine Corps got rid of its expeditionary fighting vehicle. The Army and Marines agreed to shrink their numbers.
Already, the 18 combat divisions the Army had in the 1980s now stand at 10. The Navy’s 600 ships have been reduced to less than half that—fewer than at any time since the First World War. The Air Force’s tactical air wings have dropped from 37 to 20. Its planes are now fewer and older than at any time in its history. “The useful life of the tanks, artillery, planes, ships and missiles that date to the Reagan buildup is ending, and the cost of replacing them is now far greater than it was back then,” wrote former Army officer Jeff Lukens (Right Side News, June 12).
America risks “the slow dismantlement of the greatest military on Earth,” said Representative Forbes. Actually, Forbes is only half right. America’s military risks a very rapid dismantlement. But don’t just blame the economy.
Real Cause of Collapse
Being a superpower is incredibly expensive. Just ask Britain. During its glory days of empire, it was ridiculously wealthy, the master of global trade. The picture dramatically changed with World Wars i and ii, which left Britain bankrupt and unable to sustain the operating costs of empire—particularly maintaining a military that could protect resource-supplying countries. The United States then took over as the world’s greatest power, and today Britain languishes in irrelevance.
Now, though, it is America’s turn to find itself priced out of the superpower market. And like Britain’s former colonies, America’s allies will increasingly be left out on their own.
Just as with Britain, though, America’s economic woes are not the cause of its problems. They are a symptom that points to the cause. They themselves have a far greater cause that must be understood.
Herbert W. Armstrong explained the reason for Britain’s and America’s rapid decline in his landmark book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. “There is a reason!” he wrote. “It is bound up with history and divine promises pertaining to Israel.”
America’s massive and growing problems—epic indebtedness, impossibly expensive entitlement programs, unwinnable nation-building-type military projects—all stem from the nation’s having turned its back on the Source of its prosperity and broken His immutable laws.
Just as Herbert Armstrong warned, America’s financial predominance is disappearing—and with it, its military predominance. Now, he continued, “the American nation is slated to go down even more suddenly [than Great Britain] to utter ignominy and loss of all national wealth, greatness and power!”
As we have said for years, America has won its last war. The view from the old, creaky, poorly maintained and debt-laden deck of uss America is increasingly bleak.