Forget Aircraft Carriers and Stealth Destroyers: The Navy Must Not Neglect Its Bases

J. Overton

Key point: Without world-class bases, America’s world-class Navy can’t do its job.

It’s not all about the ships, the planes, or even the Sailors.

Every day, the majority of the U.S. Navy is spending its time on shore duty. It follows that shore installations are also where the majority of naval operations, strategy, and innovation are carried out. The Navy’s 71 remaining bases show amazing resilience. Some were first built in the days of sail, some were ravaged by wars, natural disasters, and political fluctuations, and yet still they ably sustain the modern Navy.

Ranging in size from the equivalent of a small village to a mid-sized city, some produce their own power, have malls, schools, airports, and wildlife refuges, all seemingly separate from their primary fleet support purpose.

But shore installations are the U.S. Navy’s most vital, complex, and resilient platforms, as close in form to a capital “ship” as we now have. However, they have their own unique critical vulnerabilities. Coastal areas tend to be the most populated, the most environmentally sensitive, most prone to disasters, and have the most desirable real estate. Multiple stakeholders share waterfront property with the Navy, and their interests will, at times, be at odds with a base’s operations or existence. 

Bases are also the centerpieces of the Navy’s most controversial issues, or at least those issues most relevant to those outside of naval policy and strategy circles. Most citizens and Sailors are unaware or uninterested in LCS variants or FONOPS but may have visceral opinions on issues like jet noise, mold in government housing, and hazardous chemical plumes. These feelings are easily and frequently converted into impactful actions by political decision-makers. 

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