Congressman Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, provided the keynote address to members of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC) at the organization's annual meeting in Washington, DC on Wednesday, March 28.
The evening program is a part of the eighth annual ACIBC Action Days conference. During the day on Wednesday, coalition members were briefed on developments in the aircraft carrier program by members of the U.S. Navy. On Thursday, March 29, they will meet with members of the Congress to discuss how sustained Congressional funding is important to the continued strength of the industrial base that supports the construction and maintenance of nuclear aircraft carriers.
The following is text, as prepared for delivery, of his speech given Wednesday at a dinner at the Renaissance Hotel:
Thank you Tom for that kind introduction, I am honored to be here tonight. I look out into the audience and see the faces of men and women from hundreds of towns and cities around this country who produce millions of parts, from cutting technologies such as electromagnetic catapults for the Ford class carriers, to tried and true components such as the 60,000 pound anchor that has been a part of every ship since the early 20th century. These millions of parts add up to the heart of our Navy, all of the towns and cities you represent collectively add to the world's most powerful city - a floating city of four-and-a- half acres of sovereign United States territory.
We are here tonight not only talk about the importance of aircraft carriers; we are also here to demonstrate how important you all are to our national security. Without each of your companies and their dedicated employees, any debate on where carriers are homeported or how many carriers we need in the Arabian Gulf is mute. You are the lynchpins, and I am asking you to spend the day tomorrow on Capitol Hill articulating that point to the Members of Congress who represent your districts. Explain to them that aircraft carriers are more than a massive shipyard in Virginia; they include small and medium-size businesses in countless congressional districts across this nation.
Unlike many of my colleagues in Congress, I have the advantage of growing up in a Navy town. Since I was young, I have seen aircraft carriers and destroyers sail into Naval Station Mayport down the St. Johns River. In fact, I first was motivated to run for Congress to rebuild a Navy and a military that I had watched deteriorate under the so called "peace dividend" after the end of the Cold War. I would hear stories from my Navy friends in Jacksonville about ships unable to deploy because they could not afford preventative maintenance or sailors unable to train because their ships were not funded to get underway. I knew this was not right, and I ran for Congress to reverse that course.
When I arrived in Washington in 2001, I was awarded a seat on the House Armed Services Committee and worked on a variety of Navy issues. I still remember my first briefing on the worldwide presence of our aircraft carriers, looking up at that map and seeing how these ships covered every imaginable and unimaginable hot spot. It was a graphic that burned in my mind; it was a visual that demonstrated the question posed in moments of crisis by every U.S. President since World War II: Where are our aircraft carriers?
Later that year, the unthinkable happened and our nation was dealt a devastating blow on September 11th. President Bush carried on the tradition of his predecessors and asked, "Where are my carriers?" He immediately sent the USS George Washington carrier up to New York immediately to protect against additional terrorist strikes.
He asked this question again as our armed forces were planning to strike back at Al-Qaeda. When senior military leaders were preparing the beginning phases of Operation Enduring Freedom even though the United States had strong international support and a historic invocation of NATO Article Five, there were no practical land options to base our aircraft at the start of hostilities. Not surprisingly, aircraft carriers were the only viable solution for tactical air support, and, in fact, our Navy fighter jets provided about 75 percent of overland strikes through December of that year.
During the USS Theodore Roosevelt's last deployment, Navy fighter pilots flew more than 3,000 missions supporting troops-in-contact with the Taliban nearly 500 times. They spent over five months of their deployment off the coast of Pakistan.
Operation Enduring Freedom also taught us that the lack of land bases not only affects our fighter jets, but our unconventional units. In the very beginning of operations in Afghanistan, the USS Kitty Hawk was deployed in the Arabian Sea, not with her usual Carrier Air Wing, but with over 1,000 Special Operations Forces personnel including the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Navy SEALS, and Air Force Special Operations Forces. By using the USS Kitty Hawk as a power projection platform, our special operations team once again proved that the ability to be anywhere in the world our national security demands is a unique characteristic of our aircraft carriers.
However, even these amazing feats and statistics cannot be relied on to protect our aircraft carrier fleet from short-term budgetary pressures, as we saw in 2004 and we are seeing again today. Unfortunately, I learned this lesson the hard way. On Christmas Eve 2004, I got a call from then Secretary of the Navy, Gordon England. He said, "The Navy has decided to reduce the size of the carrier fleet from 12 to 11 because of budgetary pressures and there is a good chance that one carrier is going to be the USS John F. Kennedy stationed in Florida." I promptly, replied back, "Merry Christmas to you as well, Mr. Secretary."
All kidding aside, this phone call propelled me from the chorus of aircraft carrier supporters to the lead singer on our historic journey to enshrine the minimum amount of aircraft carriers into law. It all begin with that phone call, but after a few months of analysis and conversation with senior Navy leaders, I became convinced that the decision to decommission the USS John F. Kennedy was not driven by strategic analysis or the operational necessity of carriers, but on the ability to save a few dollars in the short run.
I decided decisions of this magnitude - decisions this irreversible - needed additional congressional oversight, and I introduced the Aircraft Carrier Force Structure Act. This historic act set the number of operational carriers at 12. I worked with the former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, to include this bill in the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act. When the Authorization Act was signed into law on January 6, 2006, never again could the Navy make the decision to decommission or delay the construction of a new aircraft carrier without consulting Congress first.
If you think about it for a second, before my bill was passed, the Navy needed congressional approval to transfer small amounts of funding from one account to another, but the decision to decommission an aircraft carrier worth billions of dollars could be done without any consultation from Congress.
I am extremely proud that this law still stands today. While Congress eventually gave the Navy permission to decommission the John F Kennedy due to the unmanageable backlog of maintenance and bring the carrier fleet down to 11, we DID not repeal the force structure requirement; we just changed the number. This law was never meant to lock the Navy indefinitely into a certain number, it was meant to ensure that any decisions on our carrier fleet, decisions that affect so many aspects of national security, be made with the consultation of Congress.
Today, we are faced with another dangerous environment, the threats to our carrier fleet today come from decision makers confusing the dollars we have spent to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan with the dollars needed to invest in cutting-edge capabilities and weapon systems for the next inevitable conflict, including our aircraft carriers.
If people do not believe aircraft carriers will be relevant in the next conflict, I point to the 2011 speech former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave at West Point. He said, "the most plausible, high-end scenarios for the U.S. military are primarily naval and air engagements in my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it.."
Where will those naval engagements be based from? There is no doubt from our carriers. Our carriers will morph to meet the capabilities needed for the next conflict. Just like the Kitty Hawk morphed into a special operations platform in 2001, the carriers of the future, the ones that are being built by you all today, will launch carrier-capable drones and will allow U.S. carriers to be effective from farther offshore. I recently heard a Navy Admiral compare the carrier drone's debut flight last year to the pioneering flight by Eugene Ely, who made the first successful landing on a naval vessel in 1911. Our carriers will not remain stagnant. They will be just as imperative to our Navy in 100 years as they are today.
This is why the Aircraft Industrial Base Coalition is so important; you must take this message to your individual Members of Congress. There are many new Members of Congress who do not have firsthand experience with the Navy and who do not know the importance and relevance of aircraft carriers. It is your job to teach them and convince them that our defense budget cannot be described as large incomprehensible dollar total, but a sum of military capabilities and technologies that will keep our country safe and secure into the next century, including our aircraft carriers.
There is no more powerful advocate than a constituent who goes out of their way to travel to Washington for an issue they are passionate about. I remember those visits, and I remember those issues. Your Members will too, and it will be key as we continue the fight for our aircraft carriers.
I wholeheartedly believe that there is a reason we save the most revered and sacred names in our nation's history, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan, for aircraft carriers. These ships like their namesakes are powerful leaders that will guide our Navy and our nation through the turbulent world events of the next generation.
Thank you again for having me here tonight, I will continue to fight for our Navy and our military as Washington addresses its budget battles.