December, 1

    Will a new year and a new Congress bring us the first view of a new Navy?

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    WASHINGTON — Barring the extraordinary or outright unpredictable, it is nearly certain that next year Congress will empanel its new commission tasked with assessing the “future of the Navy.”

    For all 2023 could bring, I’m most interested in the machinations and, eventually, findings of this group of independent, third-party experts.

    The commission is borne out of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, and its purpose is effectively to hand lawmakers and the Pentagon an unmitigated outlook at how the US Navy’s fleet, to include its aircraft, should look to fight and win in the future.

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    Among other things, the commission will be expected to offer concrete numbers for the mix of ships that make up the fleet, a question that has become a political football in recent years.

    At least ostensibly, they will do so without the natural biases that come into play whenever these types of reports are produced directly by the Pentagon or individual congressional committees.

    Prior to the commission’s establishment, two outside analysts considered the value of such a panel, and came to very different conclusions.

    In an op-ed for Breaking Defense on June 8, John Ferrari of AEI, argued the Navy is at a “tipping point” and an outside panel must be brought in to triage an overwhelming number of issues carefully documented by the expert auditors of the Government Accountability Office.

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    But later that month, retired four-star Navy admiral James Foggo, now leading the Center for Maritime Strategy, countered the problems of the Navy are indeed well-documented and it is political will that is needed to break the impasse. Another layer of bureaucracy, he said, is unlikely to bring anything new to light.

    Whoever’s right, this commission will have an opportunity to present the White House, Pentagon and Capitol Hill with an objective outlook on the future.

    If they do that, without the natural political biases that usually entangle shipbuilding, then they offer a rallying point for all parties involved.

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    With their final report, which must be submitted by mid-2024, the panel might just push past the circular conversations that we hear year after year on Capitol Hill. If they can do that — and the jury is out on whether they can — then perhaps one more layer of bureaucracy will prove useful.

    In the new year, I’ll be watching every move this panel makes in the hopes of finding out whether they really will have an impact on the future Navy or whether their work will be so driven by politics that it fades into irrelevancy before it has the chance to make a difference.

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