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Navy League Litany of Tough Times

The Navy needs a "fundamentally different way of procuring ships."

The Navy faces a "pressurized" period, the sort of time, when "we have to go ahead and make decisions we otherwise would not make."

The Navy cancelled LCS because "costs were taking off at an uncontrollable rate."

The Navy restructured DDG 1000 because it was "not the ship I envisioned us needing in the future."

That litany of woe and tough times all came from Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, at this year's Navy League conference.

The Marines have had a tough time but are looking for some good news in 2010. "I see 2009 as a rather tough year for the Marine Corps," said Commandant Gen. James Conway. The Marines have been "like a man with a foot in two canoes. We hope 2010 is better" as the Marines prepare to leave Iraq. But the years of operating as a counter insurgency force have taken their toll on the Corps. "Unfortunately, we have to admit we have lost expeditionary and amphibious skills," Conway said. "We have become, in many ways, a second land Army."

But, never content to lie down and get kicked, the Marines are clearly planning to take their case for renewal to the Quadrennial Defense Review and to the Defense Secretary. Walking out of the Navy League conference, Conway told me the Marines are committed to their role as "door kickers" and want to make sure the country does not lose the capability for forced entry.

A prominent Navy man, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told reporters at the conference that the country "really has a great opportunity to really set ourselves in the right direction for the future."

But he is wary of putting more money into weapons programs that may not be performing and need more dough to, in that wonderful phrase, buy down risk. "I've put a lot of money into programs where the risk just went right up," Mullen said, adding that fixing that tendency is "going to take some very creative, very inventive, top-down leadership."

That sounds like a blast across the bow of the services chief to me. Roughead and his colleagues on the Joint Chiefs will doubtless face deeper cuts to treasured programs than we have already seen if I read Mullen alright.

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