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The Best Offense
Congress's Strategically Myopic Defense Cuts

Some of the U.S. Navy’s most useful and important ships may be axed by congressional budget cuts. The vessels, which are called T-AOEs, are the biggest and best of a class of ships called logistics ships, which are crucial to America’s capability to project sea power around the world. As a recent article in the Diplomat explains:

T-AOEs are big, fast ships. In effect they’re mobile, floating warehouses that deliver fuel, ammunition, and stores of myriad types to task forces underway at sea. They displace about the same as a big-deck amphibious carrier such as USS America, a newcomer to the active fleet. And unlike their slower, smaller brethren, they can keep up with the speediest non-nuclear ships in the U.S. Navy fleet. […]

That’s an unglamorous capability, to be sure. But it’s a capability as irreplaceable as weapons and sensors for pummeling enemy fleets or enemy shores. Underway replenishment — UNREP, meaning the capacity to refuel, rearm, and reprovision at sea without detouring into port — has constituted a core U.S. Navy advantage since the days when seamen bearing names like Halsey and Spruance plied the deep. It makes the fleet a free-range fleet.

Weakening the Navy’s ability to keep its combat ships fueled and supplied anywhere in the world is a serious strategic mistake that has the potential to make peacetime naval operations more sluggish, and to cripple wartime naval capability. Cutting the T-AOEs invites the rest of the world to call into question Washington’s willingness to underwrite the security of sea trade, or its defense commitments to countries like Japan that feel increasingly under threat.

But the bigger problem here is that, in general, defense procurement policies are guided by an unimaginative, nostalgic mindset that is stuck in World War II. America’s aircraft carriers, for example, eat up large amounts of the Navy’s limited funds, even as more and more of America’s foes are acquiring advanced anti-ship missiles that are progressively turning carriers into very expensive, increasingly vulnerable targets.

If the U.S. is to maintain its edge against the revisionist powers, led by a rising China with blue water ambitions, the defense budget must reflect careful prioritization, especially when it comes to sea power. Cutting the Navy’s logistics ships reflects no such care.

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  • Andrew Allison

    This is the second time WRM has, mistakenly in my view, referred to defense procurement policies as being guided by an unimaginative, nostalgic mindset that is stuck in World War II. Nothing could be further from the truth. Defense procurement is a cess-pit, in large part because all Congress cares about is delivering pork. The military-industrial complex is far from blameless, but as in so many other areas, Congress has abrogated its duty.

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