Emerging crises worldwide have kept the operations tempo of the Navy and the Marines on a wartime pace despite the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the leaders of the Navy and the Marine Corps said Monday.
"We need to continue to think about warfighting first" amid the turmoil in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
"The volume of activity has created difficulty" for the Marine Corps, said Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. As a result, "we've degraded readiness on the home station" to keep Marines deployed forward, he said.
Dunford said that Marines were deploying overseas for seven months, returning home for 14 months, and deploying again for seven months on rotations that were similar to those for the Marines at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Greenert and Dunford spoke, along with Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft and Maritime Administrator Paul Jaenichen, at the Navy League's Sea Air Space conference and exposition at National Harbor, Md.
Zukunft and Jaenichen said they also were strapped on readiness. Zukunft explained that the Coast Guard had seen a four-fold increase in activity in recent years but at the same time the Coast Guard continues to rely on 50-year-old ships.
"We're conducting operations today aboard martime museums," he said.
Jaenichen said the Merchant Marine fleet had been reduced from 150 to 73 ships flying the U.S. flag, and 60 of those 73 ships have been designated to move U.S. troops and cargo in the event of an emergency.
"If we do nothing, we'll have to rely on foreign nations" to transport troops and equipment in a future crisis, Jaenichen said. "We've reached the tipping point. There's a lot at stake here."
On other issues, Greenert said the Navy was working to avoid cost overruns on the next aircraft carrier (CVN79) that plagued construction of the Gerald R. Ford (CVN78).
"We're learning lessons" from the missteps with the Ford, Greenert said. "You need detailed design before you begin construction," Greenert said, rather than trying to build and design simultaneously as happened with the Ford.
Greenert said he was also looking to increase competition for contractors in the building of the next carrier, rather than relying on a single shipyard.
"We might be able to build outside the yard" for some components of the next carrier, Greenert said. "We have to grind in there and continue to rethink this."
Greenert, who was in his fourth year as CNO and was expected to retire in the fall, indicated that he was looking to make some changes on personnel policy before he leaves.
"We need to stop some sort of conveyor belt approach" on sailors proceeding through the ranks, Greenert said. "We need off and on ramps" through which sailors could take a sabbatical for education or "take a break in the reserves," Greenert said.
The CNO also stressed that "we need to recruit, maintain and empower more women" in the Navy.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org