• Admiral Gilday said rust-free ships are critical for deterrence and naval readiness
  • The U.S. Navy has been finding it harder to maintain its aging fleet
  • Experts say it is not a problem that can be fixed by junior and mid-grade officers

While the U.S. Navy continues to be the world's leading maritime power for decades, the years of global deployment have pushed its fleets to their limits with several vessels in dire need of maintenance and repair.

On Saturday, after an image of naval personnel standing on a rusty ship appeared on social media, users pointed out that it was a "Navy-wide" problem, and media reports have been flooded with images of rusty U.S. naval vessels from the past.

The Navy responded on Twitter to say that the ship in the image was currently under maintenance with topside repairs planned to begin this week.

Discussing the future of the Navy in an interview at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in April 2022, the US Chief Of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday warned about the need for rust-free ships, terming it as critical for deterrence and naval readiness. However, he sought to shift the blame to the lower ranks to find solutions.

"We're the world's premier navy. We've got to look like it. This comes down to – again, part of this, you know, Get Real, Get Better campaign for people to self-assess and self-correct, for people to stand up and take action when they see stuff wrong, and not accept stuff that's broken; to do what you can to fix it," Gilday said.

"If you can't, elevate it. And the chain of command ought to be listening. They ought to be listening to your proposed solutions, besides just bringing up problems," he added.

Blaming the COVID pandemic for restrictions in carrying out maintenance activities, the Admiral portrayed rusty ships as an appearance problem, saying it was part of the Navy's "Get Real, Get Better" program.

Despite the Admiral's claim, experts have pointed out that this is not a problem that can be fixed by junior and mid-grade officers. This is a problem throughout the Navy, which shows the Pentagon's lack of focus on naval matters while the U.S. prioritized ground and air missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, writes Captain John Konrad in gCaptain.

"We have a Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who are both Army Generals, and the US Air Force is powerful in defense circles too," an unnamed former Pentagon official reportedly told gCaptain.

"The Pentagon is a large ship with lots of momentum and, even as we pivot to the Pacific to face China, the funding priorities continue to favor air and land assets," the official reportedly added.

As reported, the U.S. Navy has been facing problems with its aging fleet getting harder to maintain, even as the nation's army has undertaken a massive military modernization program.

While the Chinese fleet reportedly grew beyond 355 ships in 2022, the U.S. faces a backlog of about 4,200 days of maintenance delays in the surface ship program – the equivalent of reducing the fleet by about 10 ships for a year.

China accused the United States of 'creating risks' in the South China Sea after the USS Curtis Wilbur (pictured here in 2018) sailed through disputed waters
Representation. A file picture of a U.S. Navy warship sailing through the disputed waterways of South China Sea. US NAVY / Benjamin DOBBS