The US Navy recently put on a once-in-a-decade show of force, with three US aircraft carriers operating side by side in the Pacific Ocean just a few hundred miles from North Korea — but it cost them in a way that might hurt the force's future.
The exercise added emphasis to President Donald Trump's trip to Asia, where he spoke to heads of state about the need to crack down on North Korea and to enforce international law in the South China Sea, but according to Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the commander of Naval Air Forces, it wasn't cheap.
"To get Carl Vinson, Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt [the three carriers used] ready to deploy in January, June and October of this year, and equip their embarked air wings with the required number of mission-capable jets, 94 strike fighters had to be transferred to and from the maintenance depots or between F-18 squadrons on both coasts," Shoemaker told the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, as the Washington Examiner notes.
"This included pulling aircraft from the fleet replacement squadrons, where our focus should be on training new aviators," Shoemaker added.
The massive reshuffling of jets leaves non-deployed squadrons without planes to practice on, which will have "detrimental impacts to both retention and future experience levels" of those pilots, according to Shoemaker.
Overall, Shoemaker came off extremely negative on the exercise, which he says caused "several hundred" parts to be "cannibalized," or taken from other jets to fix the F-18s going on the carriers. The task decimated the "readiness of squadrons" and added "significantly and unnecessarily to the workload of our maintainers," according to Shoemaker.
In total, Shoemaker reported that 300 sailors had to be reassigned to complete the task, and he expects it to affect the Navy's ability to retain talent.
In September, Shoemaker said in a Navy release that naval planes for intelligence gathering, surveillance, and reconnaissance had decreased by 81 while the demands on the remaining aircraft only grew. The military's readiness has suffered across the board since the sequestration took hold in 2011, freezing the military's funding while demands on all services only grew.
Though the US's budget includes more money for naval readiness, it seems that the rebuilt, revitalized military often spoken of by Trump has yet to materialize, although the demand for it has grown.
In an interview earlier this month, Trump described the military as "getting stronger" due to increased funding.
"It's been depleted and now it's growing very fast," Trump said.
But now it seems that whatever short-term gain could have been had in making a point to North Korea or China had an ill effect on naval readiness on the whole.
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