US Navy to Abolish Reserve P-3 Squadrons as Reserves, Guard Take Big Hits

(c) K.B. Sherman, 200

Upon the heels of the news that the US Navy’s Multimission Maritime Aircraft Program is undergoing serious revision and may be in trouble ( US Navy’s Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft Program May Be In Trouble), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, making good on his public decision to restructure the US military, has ordered the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines to draft plans for a major restructuring of the 900,000-strong National Guard and Reserve forces. Although no other news organization besides The Nav Log has so noted, chief among the changes will be the end to the US Navy’s Reserve maritime air patrol (VP) squadrons – a type of unit in continuous US service since the 1930s. A significant downsizing will also occur within the Reserve strike-fighter and combat-support rotary wing communities, along with most of the rest of the Naval Air Reserve forces.

In July, to better provide troops for fighting the war on terrorism, Rumsfeld ordered the four service secretaries and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to create a system to reduce the need for calling up large numbers of reservists in a war and to do away with it completely during the first 15 days of an emergency. Private corporations might soon assume some Reserve roles, the Guard and Reserves would largely refocus upon homeland defense, and other Reserve units would be folded-into the active duty military for overseas deployment.

As the war in Iraq entered its sixth month, and with the liberal media increasingly shrill and defeatist even in the face of the US’ overwhelming success, Rumsfeld’s plan seems likely to have been, in part, triggered by what he sees as a mismatch between the demands now placed upon the US military and the force’s structure that was created at the end of the Cold War. The US has concentrated a number of its critical resources in the Reserves, including Navy anti-mine warfare, Navy air transport and logistics (VR), Navy construction battalions, Air Force Aerial Refueling (tanker) units, and Army military police. Further, a large portion of other specialties are in the Reserves, such as one-third of the Navy’s P-3 squadrons. There are now 204,000 Guardsmen and reservists on active duty. Ironically, today’s Reserve and Guard structure was created in response to the US Congress’ previous decision to spend the “peace dividend” in part by moving a lot of military expenses out of the active duty side, at which time the active duty military was shrunk from 2.1 million to today’s 1.4 million people.

This most current directive from Secretary Rumsfeld follows one from the end of 2002 in which he tasked senior officers with determining which Reserve units should be moved to the active duty military.

The Naval Reserve Association is already reacting to specific information it has received from inside sources. Although not confirmed by the Navy, according to the NRA, between the end of 2003 and 2007, the Navy will decommission the following units: all seven Reserve Patrol Squadrons (in order: VP-64, VP-92, VP-62, VP-66, VP-65, VP-69, and VP-94); three F/A-18 squadrons (VFA-203, VFA-201, and VFA-204); an E-2C squadron (VAW-78); and five combat- and special operations- support helicopter squadrons (VS-75, VSL-60, HC-85, HCS-4, and HCS-5). Only the Reserve fleet logistics (VR) squadrons, electronic attack squadron VAQ-209, VAW-77, and fighter composite squadrons VFC-12 and VFC-13 would be spared. Many of the units to be decommissioned have already been deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Leaving aside the argument that this restructuring is the best thing to do, it seems likely that these decommissionings are simply the prelude to standing-up an equal number of active duty forces – a move more politically palatable than physically relocating Reserve units to the active duty military while replacing the Reservists with active duty troops. Upcoming budget details from Congress may yield the best information for what is to come.

Going, going…the US Navy will soon decommission all of its Reserve P-3 squadrons.