The United States Navy as a Hollow Force - An Assessment of Naval Readiness from 2010 to 2017
Witwicki, Justin Holloran
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From 2010 to 2017, at least six separate but interconnected factors damaged the military readiness of the United States Navy. This thesis explored the concepts of force readiness and force “hollowness” as qualitative measures of a military’s ability to execute its national security responsibilities. Through that lens, seven “force hollowing” indicators – which were defined in 1996 by the Center for Naval Analyses – were reconsidered in the context of the 2010-2017 Navy. Of those seven, five were accepted as applicable in modern context. Those five indicators were: pressure to cut defense spending, declining military pay, poor force morale, delays in fielding modern equipment, and inadequate maintenance of existing equipment. Thereafter, two additional readiness indicators – unsustainable operational tempo and the effects of global climate change – were added to those already existing in the academic literature. Both were deemed critical to a holistic understanding of naval readiness during the early- and mid-2010s. Unsustainable operational tempo was identified as a valid indicator of naval unreadiness from 2010 to 2017. An institutional culture which accepted a “normalization of deviance” facilitated a measurable rise in operational tempo and ultimately resulted in four at-sea mishaps that claimed 17 lives in the summer of 2017. In addition, climate change, although it was rejected as a chronic readiness challenge during the 2010s, was accepted as a clear threat to future readiness. Specifically, climate change will redefine future naval missions while degrading the resilience of naval infrastructure. The thesis concluded by offering seven specific recommendations for the Navy’s uniformed and civilian leadership, each aimed at promoting readiness recovery.