Question #1 for new commander-in-chief

Sequestration and philosophical differences among politicians have lead to a big unresolved question over military capacity.

The Russians have recalled Kusnetsov.

If you think they’re making a grab for the volatile center of the Washington Capitals — you’ve probably got good work-life balance.  But scuff-shoed policy types think instead of the Russian navy’s flaship carrier. It’s named not for the stick-wielding Evgeny Kusnetsov , but rather for the famous Russian admiral, Nikolay Gerasimovich Kuznetsov.

Regardless, it’s an old and crotchety ship with a weird-looking up-ramp at its prow. It’s back in port for repairs after its Middle East deployment off Syria. According to this USNI News report, the Russians lost two airplanes because of malfunctions of the Kusnetsov’s arresting gear.

Turns out the U.S.  is, at the moment, not much of a carrier power either. In fact, for the past month or so, exactly zero of the nation’s fleet of 11 superships were deployed. That changes Saturday, according to the Navy, when the George H.W. Bush carrier strike group leaves its ports and heads to sea.

Navy operations are fiendishly complicated, and when you look at the scale of ships, people and logistics connected to just one carrier group, you wonder how they ever leave port to get anything done. These aren’t dainty cruise ships where the most important thing is whether there’s enough tequila aboard. The Navy has been on a tear to reduce its oil and gas consumption. But it shows signs of lacking another type of fuel — money.

Like a low-grade fever, the issues of readiness, size and capacity dog the armed services. As Scott Maucione reports, the Air Force, too, feels a shortfall in readiness. Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein says much of whatever extra money he gets would go towards hiring “maintainers,” people to repair and otherwise keep airplanes in sortie-ready condition.

President-elect Donald Trump has stressed the need for more capacity. He’d like to see the Navy grow from it’s current 274 ships (of which 35 are actually deployed right now) to 350. That’s about how many The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission thinks China will soon have.

But each ship, like each airplane or submarine, comes with a long tail of manpower, supplies and maintenance. Big ships are like big houses. Without staff and maintenance money, they deteriorate fast. Our military people are relatively expensive. You don’t get a high quality volunteer force for $3 a day plus all the beans they can eat.

Sequestration and foreign policy fluctuations, to say nothing of basic philosophical differences among politicians — they’ve all led to a big unresolved question of how big the military should be and what it should do.

In my mind, this is the biggest question confronting the fledgling Trump administration. President Barack Obama once correctly remarked that it’s the U.S. economy that pays for the military strength we enjoy. Perhaps Trump is presuming his plan for economic growth will result in the federal revenues necessary to sustain his military plans. We’ll know in the coming days and months.

In the meantime, on this day of command change, good luck and fair sailing to the crew of the G. H. W. Bush carrier group, and to troops wherever they’re deployed.

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