The Congress and DoD leadership should embrace the Navy’s focus on high-end warfare by shifting security and training missions to ships operated by other services, specifically the Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command. Congressional leaders have expressed interest in adding defense-related spending to the White House FY2023 budget proposal, which could build more of the existing ships the Coast Guard and MSC would use. And to operate them, the up to $2 billion in annual LCS sustainment, basing costs, and manpower funding could be moved to these new mission owners. If the Navy sheds the small boat mission, the costs should be taken out of the Navy’s budget.
We have seen that, to some extent, this has already taken place, but without the movement of money to the new providers.
The Navy hopes to save money by retiring LCS, so they can put money in other Navy programs, not so that they can hand it over to another agency (although, yes, MSC is really part of the Navy).
Navy seamanship training has had a lot problems recently, and I think a lot of that can be traced to the lack of smaller vessels with smaller wardrooms, where junior officers can get more experience in shiphandling. The Navy does not allow their surface warfare officers to specialize on their first tour. They are supposed to learn about complex engineering and weapons as well as seamanship and deck watch standing while serving on ships that may have many times the number of JOs that are on CG ships. The Navy is eight times the size of the Coast Guard, but the Coast Guard has almost as many wardrooms as the Navy. The Coast Guard has roughly 250 coastal and ocean-going cutters, patrol ships, buoy tenders, tugs, and icebreakers; as well as nearly 2,000 small boats and specialized craft. The US Navy has about 296 ships and a number of those are manned by civilian mariners of the MSC. On top of that, Navy ships are generally underway a smaller percentage of the time than Coast Guard ships, and Coast Guard vessels operate more frequently in high traffic coastal areas. It should not be surprising that Navy officers in general have less seamanship experience than their Coast Guard and merchant marine counterparts. Unless the Navy develops a cadre of ship driving specialists, shedding their smaller ships will only exacerbate the problem.