US Navy, Air Force are overworked so Russia and China ramped up activity to exploit the weakness

The US Navy was taking risks by scaling back crew size and piling work onto remaining sailors, who sometimes work more than 100 hours a week while deployed.

The US Navy has been flexing its muscle through frequent exercises like those conducted near Korea. The US must address the fleet’s “diminishing surge capacity” as a potential conflict will likely require a response by more than three carriers to carry out the operations plan. To ensure its carrier strike groups are able to respond to an emerging conflict, the US must launch a course to “rebuild the Navy.

The US Pacific fleet is the world’s largest, with approximately 200 ships and submarines, nearly 1,200 aircraft, and more than 130,000 sailors and civilians. However, this is not enough for the level of operational activity.

The 7th Fleet’s area of operation spans more than 124 million square kilometers, stretching from the International Date Line to the India-Pakistan border; and from the Kuril Islands in the North to Antarctica in the south.

The US Navy Pacific fleet has to
* monitor and react to North Korea
* perform joint operations with India, Japan, South Korea and other allies
* respond to China in the South China Sea

In 2017, Russian naval activity in Europe exceeded levels seen during the Cold War.

US Air Force has pilot shortage

In 2017, Sen. John McCain called the US Air Force pilot shortage a “full-blown crisis” that could eventually “call into question the Air Force’s ability to accomplish its mission.” And this week, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson revealed the deficit climbed to 2,000 pilots, as current operations “are stretching the force to the limit, and we need to start turning the corner on readiness.”

Last month, to fight the shortage, President Trump signed an executive order allowing the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired pilots to active duty for up to three years. It was an addendum of the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty (VRRAD) program, instituted by the service in July and originally limited to 25 active-duty staff positions. Pilots have not instantly shown up. In fact, only three retirees signed up.

Training gets sacrificed

Overworking crews mean longer deployments of US ships. US ships based in Japan — as both the Fitzgerald and McCain had been at the time of their collisions — result in key training requirements being neglected due to the demands of operational duties, something the report describes as a “problem.”

Without training time, “perishable skills atrophy,” said Carl Schuster, a Hawaii Pacific University professor who spent 10 years “driving” US warships.

“Military commands are like a football team, you constantly have to practice,” added Schuster.

Many overworked crews do not sign up for another tour of duty

Overworked sailors often do not continue their naval career. They do not sign up for another tour of duty. This makes the training problem worse as experienced people quit.

19 year maintenance backlog

A September report from the Government Accountability Office found that the Navy’s shipyard facilities and equipment in poor condition with a backlog of restoration and maintenance that will take at least 19 years to clear.

China and Russia are using the overworked issue against the US

China has recognized the problem the US Navy is having. It is easier for China’s navy to do more in its local waters than it is for the US to cover that activity. China can then make the US Navy work even harder by increasing the pace of its local naval activity.

Russia also has increased air force and navy activity in Europe and around the world.