The Department of the Navy oversees both the United States Navy and the Marine Corps. The Navy represents the seagoing branch of the armed services, maintaining fleets of ocean-going surface vessels and submarines capable of extending American sea and air power anywhere in the world. The US Navy features some of the most sophisticated ships and weapons systems in the world. Efforts to continually develop newer and more expensive ships and planes have led to criticism by government watchdogs. Some naval commanders also have come under fire for questioning the Bush administration’s strategy in the Middle East.
Even before there was a United States, there was the Navy. In 1775, a year before the Colonies declared independence from Britain, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution to procure two armed vessels which represented the beginning of the Continental Navy. Congress also established a Naval Committee, which directed the purchasing, outfitting, manning and operations of the first ships of the new Navy. The Navy’s first war produced little in the way of victories, owing to the small size and inexperience of America’s fledgling fleet, which was matched against the finest navy in the world at that time. The war did produce, however, the Navy’s first hero in John Paul Jones, who became famous for his immortal cry, “I have not yet begun to fight!”
Once the Revolutionary War ended, the Navy was disbanded, as was the Army, due to concerns that maintaining a standing military force might threaten the young democracy. The decision left American ships vulnerable to pirates who captured US vessels during the 1890s and held American sailors for ransom. Leaders in Washington, DC, became so incensed by the attacks that funding was provided to restore the Navy. Several squadrons of ships were sent to the Mediterranean Sea to fight in what became known as the Barbary Wars
around the turn of the century.
Under the leadership of Commodores Richard Dale and Edward Preble, the Navy blockaded the pirates’ coast, bombarded shore fortresses and engaged in close, bitterly contested gunboat actions. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s exploit in destroying the captured frigate USS Philadelphia, and Captain Richard Somers’ attempt with the fire-ship USS Intrepid to blow up enemy vessels in Tripoli harbor, set valorous examples for the young naval service. Their actions also led to the cessation of attacks on American shipping in the Mediterranean Sea.
Decatur and other veterans of the Barbary Wars went on to lead the US Navy in the next round of warfare against Britain during the War of 1812. The war was brought on in part by an attack at sea by the HMS Leopard on the USS Chesapeake, which refused to submit to an inspection by the British, who were looking for citizens to press into the Royal Navy. The Leopard severely damaged the Chesapeake when the Americans refused. The incident brought about another famous quote when Captain James Lawrence, commander of the USS Chesapeake, uttered, “Don’t give up the ship!” while British sailors seized his vessel. Much of the War of 1812 was fought at sea, and this time the US Navy enjoyed greater success against the superior English force which outnumbered American ships 50-to-1. The Constitution racked up several victories against British man-of-wars. The war also had its failures for the Navy, which failed to prevent British forces from landing near Washington, DC, and burning down the capital.
The next 40 years were fairly unremarkable for Navy exploits. It did participate in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 by blockading the coast of Mexico. The most significant achievement before 1860 came from Commodore Matthew Perry
, who successfully opened feudal Japan to American trading in 1854. It wasn’t until the Civil War that the Navy experienced one of the most influential periods in its history.
In April 1861 Union commanders burned their ships at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia to prevent their capture by the Confederates. But not all of the ships were completely destroyed. The Merrimack still had its hull and steam engine, giving Confederate commander Stephen Mallory the idea of repairing the ship using iron plates. Thus, “ironclads” were born, marking the beginning of the end for wooden naval ships. The Union built its own ironclad, the Monitor, which fought the Merrimack in the famed “Battle of the Ironclads” in early 1862.
The Civil War also marked the launching of the first submarine in the US Navy. In response to the Confederacy’s building the Merrimack, the US Navy commissioned the building of the USS Alligator, a small sub that relied on a hand-cranked propeller for propulsion. Although the Alligator failed to participate in any naval battles, it did mark the beginning of an entirely new form of naval operations that would become prevalent in the next century.
Following the Civil War, the Navy again went through a period of decline. By the 1880s some naval officers clamored for rebuilding the Navy, arguing that American merchant ships were too vulnerable on the high seas. The federal government began investing in modern navy of steel-hull warships, such as the battleship USS Maine
. When tensions began to rise between the US and Spain in the late 19th century, the Maine
was dispatched to the harbor in Havana, Cuba, a Spanish colony. On Feb. 15, 1898, the Maine
suddenly and mysteriously blew up. US leaders blamed Spain for the sinking, which provoked the outbreak of war. The Spanish-American War was a turning point in the history of the United States, signaling the country’s emergence as a world power.
With the election of Theodore Roosevelt as president 1901, the Navy gained an important ally. Under his administration, Roosevelt ordered the Navy to expand its fleet of warships. By 1907 the US had 16 new battleships that comprised the Great White Fleet
, which Roosevelt sent on a cruise around the world to demonstrate American naval power. Although far more powerful than ever before, the US Navy still was not formidable enough to allow the next president, Woodrow Wilson, the ability to maintain American neutrality among European powers fighting in World War I. The war marked the beginning of submarine warfare, as Germany deployed subs in the Atlantic to attack British vessels, including the luxury liner Lusitania
, killing almost 1,200 passengers, many of whom were Americans. The sinking of the Lusitania
outraged US leaders, and demonstrated to naval commanders both the danger and potential of this new form of warfare.
The US Navy was limited in its actions during WWI, confined mostly to coastal defense. Following the war, naval leaders began investing in two new kinds of surface vessels: light cruisers and aircraft carriers. The latter would prove to be the most significant addition to modern naval warfare in the 20th Century. In the 1920s the Navy launched three aircraft carriers, including the USS Lexington and the Saratoga, both of which would go on to see significant action in World War II. The addition of these new warships resulted in the Navy assuming much greater interest in aviation and the development of new fighter planes that could be launched from carriers.
Even though the US Navy had invested in several aircraft carriers, the bulk of the US Fleet as of 1941 was still focused on battleships. This changed dramatically after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
on Dec. 7, 1941. The surprise attack, featuring squadrons of Japanese fighters and bombers launched from aircraft carriers far offshore, devastated the US fleet, sinking five of its eight battleships. Fortunately, none of the Navy’s carriers were in port at the time of the attack, leaving them to become the new centerpiece of America’s Pacific Fleet. The following year, the carriers Lexington
engaged the Japanese in the Battle of the Coral Sea, in which the Lexington
was lost. Shortly after that, the Yorktown
, joined by carrier groups featuring the Enterprise
, fought a key naval battle near Midway Island. Although the US lost the Yorktown
, the battle proved even more costly for the Japanese, who lost four aircraft carriers during Midway.
With naval air power the dominant force in the Pacific, the loss of the carriers effectively ended any Japanese threat against the west coast of the United States. From 1943 on, the US Navy gained the upper hand in engagements against the Japanese by dominating the skies over any battle. The war in the Pacific also marked the advent of US submarine warfare, as American subs roamed the ocean attacking Japanese naval vessels and merchant supplies. Submarine warfare was also a critical component in the European Theater, as German U-boats preyed on Allied shipping. In the Atlantic, the US Navy’s prime job was protecting massive convoys of Liberty ships carrying supplies to England and Russia to help them in the fight against the Germans. During the early phases of WWII, U-boats wreaked havoc on convoys, sometimes sinking dozens of ships at a time. But with advances in sonar and other anti-submarine systems, such as depth-charges, US Navy destroyers became more effective in sinking U-boats, allowing more merchant ships to reach Allied ports.
When it came time for the Allied forces to launch the Normandy invasion in 1944, the US Navy played a critical role. On D-Day, the largest amphibious landing ever attempted in the history of naval warfare succeeded in helping Allied troops establish a foothold on European soil and begin pushing the Germans out of France.
The advent of the nuclear age during the Cold War had a profound affect on the US Navy. Before the discovery of atomic power, naval ships relied on diesel propulsion systems which limited their time at sea. With the creation of nuclear reactors, the Navy realized it could dramatically expand the capabilities of its fleets, especially submarines. Under the leadership of Hyman Rickover, the Navy began building nuclear-powered subs that could stay at sea for months at a time. America’s first nuclear sub, the USS Nautilus, set new records for speed, depth and time at sea. It also became the first vessel to cross the North Pole by sailing under the polar icecap.
With the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carrying nuclear warheads, the Navy became a key player in the United States nuclear strategy against the Soviet Union. A variation of the land-based ICBM known as sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) came into service in the 1960s and 1970s, along with a new generation of larger-than-ever nuclear submarines capable of launching dozens of warheads at targets in the Soviet Union. So-called “missile boats” became the most important leg of the nuclear Triad (air, land, sea) employed by the United States, as Polaris and later Trident-carrying submarines were looked upon by American strategic planners as the most likely component of US nuclear forces to survive a nuclear assault by the Soviets. This survivability of nuclear submarines formed the strategic rationale for the United States doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, which rested on the belief that as long as America’s nuclear subs could hide deep within ocean depths for months at a time, the Soviets would never dare launch an attack knowing the US could respond with its SLBMs.
The introduction of naval nuclear reactors also came into play for smaller, attack submarines, such Los Angeles and later Seawolf subs, whose mission was to track, and in the event of war, sink Soviet nuclear submarines. Such high stakes underwater tactics were well represented in the film The Hunt for Red October
, based on the novel by Tom Clancy.
In time, nuclear reactors replaced the conventional propulsion systems on surface vessels, including cruisers and aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, the Navy participated in the conflict through air strikes launched from aircraft carriers. Small naval gunboats patrolled the coastal and inland waters of Vietnam. But because the war proved draining on the federal treasury, the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon directed fewer dollars to the Navy for new vessels. By the time the war was over in the 1970s, the Navy had shrunk to a little more than 200 ships. The de-emphasis on naval vessels didn’t prevent the Navy from modernizing its aviation wings, as the F-14 Tomcat came online in the late 1970s.
While the US saw its fleets shrink, the Soviets continued expanding their navy. The disparity in surface vessels was a major concern for the administration of Ronald Reagan. Under Secretary John Lehman, the US embarked on building a 600-ship Navy during the 1980s. Not only were new aircraft carriers and submarines launched, but mothballed battleships from another era returned to the high seas. Beginning with the USS New Jersey, four battleships were overhauled and fitted with the latest new weapon - cruise missiles. Critics of the Reagan administration decried the decision to bring back the New Jersey, Missouri, Wisconsin and Iowa battleships as wasteful and strategically pointless in an era of high-speed warfare. The experiment didn’t last long, as all four battleships were decommissioned in the early 1990s, although not before the Missouri and Wisconsin got the chance to fire their cruise missiles at targets in Iraq during the Gulf War.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, the US Navy found itself without a rival on the world’s oceans. This superiority has continued even though the Navy’s overall size shrunk since the 1990s. Its overall reduction in total vessels is misleading, however, considering that the Navy still has 12 aircraft supercarriers and their supporting battle groups. In addition, the Navy’s emphasis on developing technologically advanced weapons, planes and ships gives it a huge advantage over other navies. Since the 9/11 attacks, the Navy has been working on several new classes of ships, such as the Zumwalt class destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship, and new aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor.
The Department of the Navy oversees both the United States Navy and the Marine Corps. The Navy represents the seagoing branch of the armed services, maintaining fleets of ocean-going surface vessels and submarines capable of extending American sea and air power anywhere in the world.
The Navy’s vast collection of vessels and aircraft are organized into either functional or geographic-oriented commands. US Naval Forces Central Command
includes the 5th Fleet and includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean. This expanse, comprised of 27 countries, includes three critical points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen. A map
provided by the command shows that its area of responsibility ranges from northeastern Africa to southwestern Asia.
US Pacific Fleet
is the Navy’s largest fleet command, encompassing 100 million square miles, from the West Coast of the United States to the eastern shore of Africa. The Pacific Fleet consists of approximately 178 ships, 1,500 aircraft and 160,000 sailors, Marines and civilians.
The US Atlantic Fleet
encompasses a massive geographic area including the Atlantic Ocean from the North Pole to the South Pole, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, the area includes the Norwegian, Greenland and Barents Seas, and the waters around Africa extending to the Cape of Good Hope.
Military Sealift Command
, headquartered at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, supports the Navy and other branches of the military by delivering supplies and conducting specialized missions across the world’s oceans. It operates five operational commands called Sealift Logistics Commands, or SEALOGs, in the Atlantic, Pacific, Europe, Central and Far East areas.
Naval Network Warfare Command
represents the IT component of the Navy, building and maintaining sophisticated information networks that link all naval organizations and commands.
US Naval Special Warfare Command,
headquartered at the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, CA, oversees maritime special operations forces. The major operational components of Naval Special Warfare Command include Naval Special Warfare Groups One and Three in San Diego, CA, and Naval Special Warfare Groups Two
and Four in Norfolk, VA. These components deploy SEAL Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams and Special Boat Teams. The command includes 5,400 total active-duty personnel, including 2,450 SEALs and 600 special warfare support personnel.
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command
is a major acquisition command that develops and acquires systems related to command, control, communications, computers intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, information technology and space systems.
Strategic Systems Programs
directs the development, production, logistic support, and engineering effort for the Navy’s Strategic Weapons Systems, including the Trident Ballistic Missile.
Naval Air Systems Command,
headquartered in Patuxent River, Md., provides acquisition, research, development, test and evaluation for airborne weapons systems
Naval Security Group Command is responsible providing cryptology services.
Naval Seas System Command
is a key procurement command for the Navy. Accounting for nearly one-fifth of the Navy’s budget, the command manages more than 150 acquisition programs. With a force of 53,000 civilian, military and contract support personnel, it engineers, builds, buys and maintains the Navy’s ships and submarines and their combat systems. It also manages foreign military sales in the billions of dollars to partner nations.
Current Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy: Admiral Gary Roughead
Admiral Gary Roughead has served as chief of naval operations since September 2007. Roughead graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1973. His initial assignment was in the weapons department on board the destroyer USS Josephus Daniels. This was followed by duty as executive officer on the patrol gunboats USS Douglas and USS Tacoma. He was the commissioning chief engineer on the destroyer USS O'Bannon and executive officer on the destroyer USS Spruance.
His tours ashore included assignments as flag lieutenant to the commander of Naval Surface Force, US Atlantic Fleet; surface warfare analyst at the Navy’s Office of Program Appraisal; administrative aide to the Secretary of the Navy; executive assistant to the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Command; commandant of the US Naval Academy; the Department of the Navy’s chief of legislative affairs; and deputy commander of the US Pacific Command.
Roughead was the commissioning commanding officer of the Aegis destroyer USS Barry and, upon assuming command of the cruiser USS Port Royal, became the first naval officer to command both classes of Aegis ships. He also served as commander of the Cruiser Destroyer Group Two and the George Washington Battle Group, deploying to the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea. Roughead served as commander of the US Second Fleet and commander of the NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic, commander of the Naval Forces North Fleet East in Norfolk, Virginia, and commander of the US Pacific Fleet.
While commanding the US Pacific Fleet, Roughead was embarrassed by an incident in November 2006 when a Chinese submarine managed to slip into the protective convoy of the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk as Roughead was making an official visit to China. Some argued that the incident was leaked to the press by opponents of Roughead in the Pentagon.
Fallout from Chinese Sub Stalking
(blog, In From the Cold)
Almost all of the weapons, equipment and supplies used by the Navy are provided through defense contractors. According to USAspending.gov., in FY 2007, 79,087 different companies received Department of Defense contracts totaling $312 billion. However the top six companies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems, received almost one third of that money. All represent the top five defense contractors for the Navy, except BAE Systems (which ranks 11th). Other top 25 Navy contractors are United Technologies, L-3 Communications Holdings, Electronic Data Systems, General Electric, Textron, Carlyle Group and Bechtel.
Some of the Navy’s key naval, air and weapons programs, and their contractors, are as follows:
Weapons Procurement Waste and Delays
In March 2008 the Government Accountability Office released a scathing report on the status of numerous weapons projects being developed for the Pentagon. Government auditors found programs for new ships, aircraft and satellites were billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Among the major programs reviewed was the Navy’s $5.2 billion Littoral Combat Ship, which has had such extensive troubles that the service expected the cost of its first two ships to exceed their combined budget of $472 million by more than 100%. The Navy canceled construction of the planned third and fourth ships by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, the prime contractors on the project.
Another program criticized was Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy tactical fighter intended for the Air Force and Navy. Cost projections put the price tag at almost $100 million per plane, up 40% since 2001. In a statement, Lockheed said that the Joint Strike Fighter was “performing solidly, making outstanding technical progress in the context of the most complex aircraft ever built” and that “the bedrock and the cornerstone” of the F-35 program have been “affordability and cost containment.”
In another case, the initial contract target price of Boeing’s program to modernize avionics in the C-130 cargo plane, also employed by both the Air Force and Navy, was expected to skyrocket 323%, to $2 billion.
The GAO report said the reasons for the cost overruns and delays were threefold: Too many programs chasing too few dollars; technologies not mature enough to go into production; too long to design, develop and produce a system.
“They’re asking for something that they’re not sure can be built, given existing technologies, and that’s risky,” said a GAO official.
Navy Admiral Bush Critic Resigns
Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Central Command that oversees the war in Iraq, resigned in March 2008 after a long battle with both political and military leaders of the Bush administration. In a story in Esquire magazine, Admiral Fallon was depicted as the only man standing between the United States and war with Iran.
Admiral Fallon admitted that war rhetoric from some members of the White House staff was not helpful in his effort to ease tensions in the Middle East. He also publicly opposed some other key policies, including, initially, the surge of US forces into Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it was not Fallon’s views but rather his failure to put an end to the perception he had ongoing policy differences with the administration that led to his departure from one of the most important posts in the US military. Fallon also did not get along with General David Petraeus, the Army’s top leader in Iraq. The admiral called Petraeus a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad.
Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be “an ass-kissing little chickenshit.” That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.
The contentious start of Fallon’s mission to Baghdad led to more meetings marked by acute tension between the two commanders. Fallon went on develop his own alternative to Petraeus' recommendation for continued high levels of US troops in Iraq during the summer.
The enmity between the two commanders became public knowledge when the Washington Post reported in September 2007 on intense conflict within the administration over Iraq. The story quoted a senior official as saying that referring to “bad relations” between them is “the understatement of the century.”
Admiral Fallon had been in the Navy for nearly 41 years. He had numerous operational assignments, including commands in the Atlantic and the Persian Gulf, and with NATO naval forces. He was also commander of US forces in the Pacific, and as deputy chief of the Navy, he was at the Pentagon when it was attacked on September 11, 2001. Admiral Fallon was one of the last active US military officers to have served in Vietnam, where he flew missions in Navy combat and reconnaissance aircraft.
Submarine Strikes Undersea Mountain
In January 2005 the USS San Francisco, a Los Angeles class attack submarine, crashed head-on into an undersea mountain that was not on navigational charts. The accident killed one crew member and injured dozens more. Initial reports from the Navy downplayed the accident, one of the worst ever involving a US submarine.
The San Francisco was sailing near Guam when it struck the seamount at top speed - 33 knots, roughly 38 miles an hour. Part of the sonar dome, located in the nose of the sub, began to flood as a result of huge holes in the forward ballast tanks. Crew members tried to release air out of the tanks to lift the sub toward the surface, but the throttles didn’t respond, and the vessel briefly lost propulsion, leaving it to drift in the deep, its bow pointing down.
Fortunately, the thick inner hull protecting the nuclear reactor and the crew’s quarters held. Eventually, the crew was able to bring the sub under control and reach the surface. In the control room, several crew members had been violently thrown during the collision, leaving much blood on the instruments and on the floor. One crew member described the scene as looking “like a slaughterhouse.”
US Navy investigators reported that a series of mistakes at sea and onshore caused the accident. The Navy relieved the sub’s captain, Kevin Mooney, of his command and issued him a nonjudicial letter of reprimand. He was not charged with a crime and was not court-martialed. Six crew members were also found guilty at their own nonjudicial punishment hearings of hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty and were reduced in rank and given punitive letters of reprimand.
The crash was the worst involving a US submarine since the 2001 incident in which another attack sub struck a Japanese fishing boat off the coast of Hawaii, killing nine fishermen.
Annual Budget: $125 billion
Department of the Navy