Here’s an interesting fact to think about as the new administration works to reverse a years-long decline in military readiness. There’s only one active-duty navy vessel that has sunk an enemy ship. It’s the USS Constitution - 220 years old.
“One of the very first ships of the young U.S. Navy, Constitution was launched in 1797 and saw action in the First Barbary War, when the United States went to war against North African pirates,” Popular Mechanics magazine reported recently. “Constitution’s squadron sank several pirate gunboats and took the guns of Tripoli harbor under fire. Later in the War of 1812, Constitution defeated six Royal Navy ships: HMS Guerriere, Java, Pictou, Cyane, and Levant. Today she is the oldest ship on active duty with the U.S. Navy, a floating museum and parade ship.”
In 2015, the last modern ship to have sunk an enemy vessel was retired.
“Commissioned in 1985, the USS Simpson was a guided missile frigate, a jack-of-all-trades capable of anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine warfare missions,” the magazine explained. “In 1988 as part of a three-ship flotilla, Simpson helped destroy several Iranian facilities tied to Iran’s effort to mine the Persian Gulf. An Iranian fast attack boat, the Joshan, counterattacked the American force and was sunk by a combination of missiles and gunfire. Simpson was retired by the Navy on September 28th to make room for more modern ships.”
Yet a number of factors has delayed modernization and left our Navy - and the rest of our military - far less prepared for conflict. Last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis called for the means and the political will to improve readiness.
“In a four-page guidance memo released Wednesday, Mattis echoed President Donald Trump in saying his goal is to build a ‘larger, more capable, more lethal joint force,’” Bloomberg reported. “The retired four-star general, who is en route to see allies in Asia this week, didn’t spell out specific increases in weapons purchases. The fiscal 2018 plan outlined in the document backs an approach calling for, ‘but not limited to,’ buying more critical munitions, funding facilities maintenance and advanced technology demonstrators and ‘growing force structure at the maximum responsible rate.’”
Trump has also pledged to modernize the Navy, increasing the number of ships and improving the Navy’s air power.
It’s not just the Navy, though. As Military.com website reports, “Only three of the Army’s 58 Brigade Combat Teams are ready to fight; 53 percent of Navy aircraft can’t fly; the Air Force is 723 fighter pilots short; and the Marine Corps needs 3,000 more troops.”
How did it get to this point? There’s plenty of blame to go around. President Obama didn’t prioritize readiness, but Republicans (who say they do) agreed to the disastrous budget deal that led to the “sequestration” budget cuts.
It’s time to undo sequestration and rebuild the military. The world is getting more dangerous, not less.
Still, let’s not discount the USS Constitution. With 30 24-pound long guns and 20 32-pounders, she can still send a respectable amount of shot across the water.
Hopefully we won’t need her.