After years of surging deployments, the fleet is facing a looming threat: burnt-out warships and the ship crews needed to man them.

A new study report argues With fewer ships,the strain on sailors is reaching a tipping point as the fleet simultaneously grapples with tensions in the Asia-Pacific, renewed antagonism by Russian forces and the rising threat of the so-called Islamic State militants. mounting on sailors deployed around the world to respond to Sailors on sea duty are working harder than ever to fill the demand for forward presence while the fleet has shrunk over time.

A new report argues The Navy is reaching an inflection point where it will have to build a larger fleet or forward-base more ships to meet the surging demands for ships, squadrons and submarines, or released Wednesday claims the Navy is nearing a tipping point where it will either have to base more of its ships forward to fill the current demands, according to the study's author Bryan Clark, a retired commander and analyst with submariner an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.

Clark's study shows that Over nearly two decades, the fleet has dropped from 333 ships to 272 ships, but the number of ships deployed at any one time has stayed steady at about 100 ships, according to the study.

"So if you just do simple math, that would indicate that each of the ships in the Navy is doing 20 percent more work and being deployed 20 percent more than its predecessors back in 1998," Clark said in a roundtable with reporters to unveil the study. "The demand signal hasn't dissipated, it has only gotten worse."

The CSBA study, funded by the Navy League, is the latest in a series of warnings by experts who argue today's 272-ship fleet is signal flares sent up by naval observers who say the Navy is becoming too small to prosecute missions around the globe, including handle it's current tasking, which includes keeping twocarriers in the nderway in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific at all times, as well as fulfilling commitments in Europe, Africa and South America. Central Command, which is waging war on the Islamic State group, has been without a flattop since mid-October.

Clark's data show that ships are spending about 25 percent more of their underway time deployed, meaning sailors are getting less underway time for training.

"On any given day in 1998, 62 percent of the underway ships were deployed, the rest were hanging around [the continental United States] doing training ... the kinds of things that you use to gain proficiency," Clark said. "In 2015, about 74 percent of the underway ships were deployed.

"What that equates to is that if you are underway and not deployed, you are on some rigorous schedule to get your [pre-deployment work-up] requirements completed. There isn't a lot of time for additional exercises, additional training, steaming time for proficiency. A lot of that has fallen away as a result of the need to maintain 100 ships deployed with a fleet that has been continuously shrinking."

Navy leaders also have also been concerned with the strain on sailors. The former chief of naval operations has said that the fleet is making progress on returning to seven and a half month cruises after years of deployments that ran to eight months and beyond. And the Navy has approved a new long deployment pay, known as Hardship Duty Pay-Tempo, that pays sailors up to $495 a month after being deployed straight for 220 days.

The stress of continued demands placed on a n ever-smaller fleet are already beginning to show, Clark said. The carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower sailed on back-to-back deployments and had a unforeseen maintenance problems in the yards that forced fleet bosses to deploy the carrier Harry S. Truman in its stead.

Clark says the strain of long and erratic deployment plans could will ultimately lead to the kinds of maintenance and readiness issues the fleet is already beginning to see, Clark argues, and will ultimately lead to retention issues as the fleet gets burned out. All this means that leaders will either have to to accept more forward-baseing more of ships to cut transit times, buy a bigger Navy, or deploy fewer less ships around the world. accept a reduced presence level around the world because current funding projections and shipbuilding plans show that the Navy will only be getting smaller in the years to come.

"The Navy is going to have to accept reduced presence or do something to increase the amount of presence per ship," Clark said. One suggestion option is to forward-base a second aircraft carrier in Japan, along with the carrier Ronald Reagan, a move that would cut weeks of transit time for West Coast ships headed to 7th and 5th Fleets.

The demands, on top of budget cuts that caused shipyard work stoppages, stress of the current workload, among other factors including budget cuts resulting shipyard work stoppages, has forced the Navy to extend deployments repeatedly for as long as 101 months. That in turn has caused wear and tear that threatens to cut ships' service lives shorter, further reducing fleet size., which leaders say has caused more things to break on the ships and stripped each hull of service life -- something that will inevitably lead to even more force structure cuts in the coming decades.

CSBA presented the report was presented to lawmakers and industry representatives at a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday morning.  at a brief on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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