The United States Navy has become the most unsettled of all the uniformed services, its role and capability in fulfilling national strategy clouded by controversy. In the past year, President Ford has sent two different shipbuilding requests to the Congress, to which the House and the Senate have added their own distinct and separate versions. Adding to the turmoil have been sharply varying perceptions of the Soviet naval threat. Many observers claim that significantly higher shipbuilding programs are needed due to the numerical and technological advances of the Soviet Navy. Others counter that the United States is more than holding its own in numbers of oceangoing warships, and that technological gains do not help Soviet fleets escape the geographical bottlenecks barring easy access to blue water.
If the extent of the Soviet threat is open to question, so too is the ability of the U.S. Navy to carry out its assigned roles and missions. Only the Navy's role in strategic deterrence, through nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, appears assured and invulnerable. Yet the Navy's primary mission remains sea control, which means the ability to resupply our troops and support our allies. It also means the ability to import critical materials in the event of a protracted conflict. And it is sea control that allows the Navy to carry out its secondary mission, which is projection of power ashore in support of combat operations. For these missions, the current Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral James L. Holloway III, rates the U.S. Navy as only marginally capable of carrying out national strategy "in a majority of situations."1
As these controversies boil, two of the Navy's biggest private shipyards have joined in open revolt against their client. Tenneco's Newport News Shipbuilding Division and Litton Industries' Ingalls Shipbuilding Division have tried to stop work on Navy ships, claiming their contracts to be invalid, money-losing propositions. None of this turmoil, however, has had a deleterious effect on the Navy's budget. Already larger than that of
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