Two essential processes are at work in today’s surface force: the production of readiness and the consumption of readiness. No matter where a ship is homeported, she is either generating readiness through maintenance, modernization, and training or she is consuming it with operations at sea.
The production of readiness is a function of many inputs tied closely to available resources. These inputs include proper manning and manpower on our ships—that is, both the right number of people and the right skill sets; sufficient manning in shore-based training organizations, again, in both numbers and skills; a robust maintenance support function; regularly scheduled modernization; and properly manned and resourced command and oversight organizations.
The consumption of readiness is the purview of operational commanders, primarily the numbered fleet commanders. Their responsibilities have increased substantially in the past few decades, as a Navy that in 1989 routinely had 100 of its nearly 600 ships under way has evolved into a 277-ship Navy with 100 ships routinely under way. This is compounded by mounting threats to U.S. security interests, including a powerful China, a newly emboldened Russia, an unpredictable North Korea, an Iran bent on regional dominance, and an ever-present threat of terrorism.
The failure to adjust Navy operational culture and habits to the reality of a greatly reduced force size has been further complicated by reductions in our readiness production capacity. Budget reduction decisions, made to balance competing priorities in a time of need or to gain efficiency, can create additional and unforeseen risks to our capability and capacity. In addition, these risks are not conceptualized in real time and can take a decade or more to recover from if and when further resources are applied later in the requirements process.