Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How do you replace two carriers at the same time? And other questions from the pandemic

Beginning my military career in 1985 meant starting amidst the Reagan build-up of the military.  We had more planes, ships, bases, and personnel then ever to thwart the Soviet Union.  It also meant that there was an inherant swagger amongst the military.  Reagan's build-up had help overcome the stigma of military service that was rampant just 10 years earlier during and immediately after the Vietnam war.

Perhaps it is the lingering of effects of those heady days that cause me to react with such uttering incomprehension at the following; both of the US Navy carriers on station in the Pacific have been forced to port due to the coronavirus. Both  CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt  and CVN-76 USS Ronald Reagan crews have succumbed to the coronavirus.  Two of our nuclear powered carriers, the ultimate expression of US military power projection, guarded by the most sophisticated destroyers, frigates and attack submarines the world has ever known rendered useless by a virus.

The wildest war times scenarios of an attack by the Soviets always involved large scale attacks or the use of nuclear weapons.  Attacks post the Soviet Union saw more asymmetrical attacks via terrorists or cyber warfare.  In none of these cases was it ever imagined that the entire Pacific fleet would be sent to their home ports to wait out a virus.

For those keeping score, the leaves CVN-72 USS Abraham Lincoln the only carrier still afloat (albeit in the Middle East), at least for now.  The rest of the US carries are in various stages of maintenance back home.  This is unimaginable for unlike being attacked or damage, with the pandemic taking out our ships there is no get well date.  We can just dispatch another carrier in the blink of an eye and even if we could, there is no saying that their crews would not succumb to the pandemic as well.

These are truly ugly times.  My last few posts have been more about the pandemic from the perspective of how it effects everyday life.  Now looking at how our military capabilities are also being effected is very unsettling.  The US Air Force and US Army are experiencing outbreaks at their bases as well.  So far the effects on their mission capabilities are unknown.  In the case of both of these branches, they will also have to compete with states governors who are deploying Army and Air National Guard resources in response to the pandemic.

The US Air Force spent a lot of time and money on me to learn how to think through all types of scenarios.  I must admit, this one has me stumped.  There is no end date, as more people succumb more capabilities will be reduced or lost and there is no reserve to call upon for they are subjected to the same limiting factors.  Worse is how the pandemic is effecting our combat support, logistics and medical.  Military and civilian healthcare workers are being pushed to the brink.  Truck drivers, cargo pilots, material handlers, port workers, and even grocers are all facing a reduction in capability as more and more of their workers succumb.

The best option I see is trying to keep those personnel not already sick as healthy as possible for as long as possible in hopes that those that are sick now recover soon.  Shelter in place, exercise and eat right.