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America Chooses a Navy
A competition with China for the global future.

USS Ronald Reagan underway during RIMPAC 2010 exercises. (U.S. Navy)

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George Will

Russia’s ongoing dismemberment of Ukraine and the Islamic State’s erasing of Middle Eastern borders have distracted attention from the harassment of U.S. Navy aircraft by Chinese fighter jets over the South China Sea. Beijing calls this sea, and the Yellow and East China seas, the “near seas,” meaning China’s seas. The episodes involving aircraft are relevant to one of Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s multiplying preoccupations — CUES, meaning Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea.

This is designed to prevent incendiary accidents, a topic of special interest during this month’s centennial commemorations of the beginning of a war that, ignited by miscalculations, ruined the 20th century. Greenert, chief of naval operations, has carrier-based aircraft flying from the Persian Gulf to targets in Iraq. He is, however, always thinking about the far side of the largest ocean.

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One hundred years ago, the principal challenge of world diplomacy, which failed spectacularly, was to peacefully integrate a rising, restless power — Germany — into the international system. Today’s comparable challenge is China. Greenert, who knows well his Chinese counterpart, Admiral Wu Shengli, radiates a serene patience about China.

Today the Chinese have one primitive aircraft carrier built from a hull bought from Ukraine. Greenert says China is about ten years away from beginning to construct a seriously large and capable carrier with excellent aircraft — by which time, optimists hope, China will accept the need for orderliness on the seas over which passes 90 percent of the world’s trade (by volume) and beneath which, through cables, passes 95 percent of international phone and Internet traffic.

Greenert’s Navy, which has fewer (290) but much more capable ships than the Navy had during the Reagan buildup (594), can still move nimbly to put anti-missile ships near North Korea or F/A-18s over the Islamic State. But cascading dangers are compelling Americans to think afresh about something they prefer not to think about at all — foreign policy. What they decide that they want will define the kind of nation they want America to be. This abstract question entails a concrete one: What kind of Navy do Americans want? The answer will determine whether U.S. power can, in Greenert’s formulation, “be where it matters when it matters.”

China’s naval buildup is eliciting countervailing forces, including Japan’s naval expansion, which Greenert says includes ships as capable as ours. Japan’s constitution restricts the nation’s Self-Defense Forces to just that — defensive activities — but the constitution can be construed permissively to allow, for example, defenses against ballistic missiles and protection of allies. This is one reason Greenert says it is reasonable to speak of a 1,000-ship naval force encompassing the assets of nations — such as India, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, and the Philippines — that have no agendas beyond maintaining the maritime order on which world commerce depends.

The most momentous naval event in world history, an event more important than the developments of sail and steam power, was the January 17, 1955, signal from the USS Nautilus: “Underway on nuclear power.” A nuclear Navy can stay on station. Representative J. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, notes that with America having fewer land bases overseas, aircraft carriers effectively “move U.S. soil anywhere in the world.”

A Chinese intellectual says his country has an “outward-leaning economy.” China’s economic dynamism, and hence its political stability and geopolitical weight, depends on seaborne imports of natural resources and seaborne exports to distant markets. China, which has territorial disputes in common waters with its neighbors, worries, Forbes says, primarily about America’s Navy.

Forbes worries about China’s development of “carrier-buster” anti-ship missiles that “will back our carriers away from Chinese territory,” including those seas that China considers its own. A carrier can cost approximately $13 billion, but that is, Forbes says, acceptable for a product that will project national power for 50 years. The Navy, with embarked Marines, is the primary instrument for the use of military power.

The question, however, is: Do Americans, demoralized by squandered valor in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismayed in dramatically different ways by two consecutive commanders-in-chief — the recklessness of one and the lassitude of his successor — want U.S. power projected? They will answer that question with the Navy their representatives configure. The representatives should act on the assumption that every generation lives either in war years or in what subsequent historians will call “interwar years.”

— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post

 


USS George H.W. Bush
JUNE, 2014: As the security situation in Iraq continues to degrade, the Pentagon has moved the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush to the Persian Gulf, putting it in a position to intervene if needed. Here’s a look at the firepower aboard George H.W. Bush.
The George H.W. Bush was recently stationed in the North Arabian Sea, and her movement into the Persian Gulf signals the seriousness of the situation on the ground in Iraq. Pictured, an F/A-18 Super Hornet lands on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Joshua Card)
The George H.W. Bush is being joined by the guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (pictured) and the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea. Both ships bring a potent Tomahawk cruise missile strike capability. Pictured, George H.W. Bush with Truxtun (left) and Philippine Sea during a previous deployment.
Ahe amphibious dock ship USS Mesa Verde has recently arrived in the region as well, adding a rapidly deployable Marine Corps contingent to the task force.
THE “AVENGER”: Commissioned in 2009 and first deployed in 2011, the George H.W. Bush is the last of the Nimitz-class super carriers. As the flagship of the Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 2, she commands a flotilla of other surface ships in addition to her air arsenal.
The ship takes her name from the 41st president, who served as a naval aviator during WWII, where he was shot down during a mission in the Pacific theater. Pictured, Bush visits his namesake ship during training exercises.
Powered by two nuclear reactors, George H.W. Bush’s top speed exceeds 30 knots. A typical crew complement consists of around 6,000 officers, sailors and Marines.
Everything about the Bush is super-sized, including the things you can’t see. Beneath the waves, the Bush is propelled by four 21-foot wide propellers, each weighing 30 tons, and two rudders each weighing 50 tons.
George H.W. Bush’s main offensive punch come from the four strike fighter squadrons of Carrier Air Wing Eight, accounting for 40 to 50 combat aircraft on board. Pictured, two F/A-18 Hornets with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) above George H.W. Bush.
Strike fighter squadrons VFA-15 (the “Valions”) and VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) fly the F/A-18C/A Hornet. Pictured, an F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 launches from the flight deck. (Photo: Seaman Kevin J. Steinberg)
Strike fighter squadrons VFA-31 (the “Tomcatters”) and VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) fly the larger F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Pictured, an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 leaps into the air. (Photo: Petty Officer Second Class Gregory N. Juday)
George H.W. Bush also carries four EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare planes and E-2C Hawkeye early-warning and combat-control aircraft, along with other support and transport squadrons. Pictured, sailors prep an EA-6B Prowler aircraft with Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-129 for launch. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An E-2C Hawkeye with Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 120 lands aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Seaman Kevin J. Steinberg)
An X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) demonstrator completed an autonomous arrested landing on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush in July, 2013, marking a major milestone in the development of the new jet-powered Navy drone. (Photo: Alan Radecki for Northrop Grumman)
FLIGHT OPERATIONS: Officers and crew on the bridge of USS George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An F/A-18E Super Hornet with VFA-31 lands aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens).
An F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 approaches the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush for a landing behind an F/A-18 Hornet with VFA-87 undergoing maintenance. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
An F/18-A Hornet with VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) lands on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Robert Burck)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) approaches for a landing on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Timothy Walter)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 lands on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Captain Daniel Dwyer, deputy commander of Carrier Air Wing 8, makes his 1,000th carrier landing as he lands aboard George H.W. Bush in an F/A-18A+ Hornet with VFA-87 in 2011. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Billy Ho)
Lieutenant Commander Timothy Myers with VFA-31 gives a thumbs-up after landing his F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard George H.W. Bush in 2010. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
ON THE FLIGHT DECK: A shooter signals an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 to launch on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
An air department sailor directs an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to VFA-15 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Brent Thacker)
An F/A-18F Super Hornet with Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-213 (the “Black Lions”) launches from the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
A sailor assigned to the air department of George H.W. Bush guides an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 to a catapult. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
Sailors prepare to launch an F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 aboard George H.W. Bush. The painting on this Hornet identifies it as a “CAG bird” flown by the air group’s commanding officer. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Kasey Krall)
An air department sailor directs an F/A-18E Super Hornet with VFA-31 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Daniel Moore)
Sailors assigned to VFA-87 (the “Golden Warriors”) attach ordnance to an F/A-18A Hornet on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Joshua Card)
Sailors with VFA-31 (the “Tomcatters”) load ordnance onto an F/A-18E Super Hornet aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
Aviation Ordnanceman Airman August Moss inspects training ordnance aboard George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Gregory Wilhelmi)
Sailors move an aircraft fuel tank on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens)
Sailors direct an EA-6B Prowler with VAQ-134 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Lieutenant Juan Guerra)
Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) Second Class Steven Lily directs an MH-53E Sea Dragon on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Sailors board an MV-22 Osprey from the Marine Tiltrotor Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron VMX-22 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
Sailors transit the flight deck on George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Kevin J. Steinberg)
An F/A-18 Super Hornet comes to a stop on the arresting wire on the fligh deck of George H.W. Bush. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released)
Sailors conduct flight operations aboard George H.W. Bush. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Brian Stephens/Released)
Flight deck personnel direct an F/A-18F Super Hornet with VFA-213 on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. Bush. (Photo: Petty Officer Third Class Nicholas Hall)
An F/A-18C Hornet with VFA-15 takes off from the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Lieutenant Juan Guerra)
An F/A-18 Super Hornet with VFA-213 stands ready on the flight deck of George H.W. Bush. (Photo: Mass Communication Specialist Second Class Joshua K. Horton)
Updated: Aug. 15, 2014

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