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File: US Navy
The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States.
It is the largest navy in the world, with a battle fleet tonnage that is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S. Navy also has the world's largest carrier fleet, with 11 in service, one under construction (two planned), and one in reserve. The service has 321,053 personnel on active duty and 106,188 in the Navy Reserve. It operates 286 ships in active service and more than 3,700 aircraft.
The Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War and was essentially disbanded as a separate entity shortly thereafter. The United States Constitution provided the legal basis for a military force by giving Congress the power "to provide and maintain a navy".
Depredations against U.S. shipping by Barbary Coast pirates in the Mediterranean Sea spurred Congress to employ this power by passing the Naval Act of 1794 ordering the construction and manning of six frigates. These ships were used to end most pirate activity off the Barbary Coast. In the 20th century, American blue-water navy capability was demonstrated by the 1907–1909 world tour of the Great White Fleet.
The 21st century United States Navy maintains a sizable global presence, deploying in such areas as East Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It is a blue-water navy with the ability to project force onto the littoral regions of the world, engage in forward areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises, making it an active player in U.S. foreign and defense policy.
The Navy is administratively managed by the Department of the Navy, which is headed by the civilian Secretary of the Navy. The Department of the Navy is itself a division of the Department of Defense, which is headed by the Secretary of Defense. Traditionally, the highest ranking naval officer (O-10 on the pay chart) is the Chief of Naval Operations, a position currently held by Admiral Jonathan Greenert, however one naval officer currently outranks him. The highest ranking naval officer is the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James Winnefeld.
In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, the establishment of an official navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Continental Congress. Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world's preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking.
Commander in Chief George Washington commissioned seven ocean-going cruisers to interdict British supply ships, and reported the captures to the Congress. This effectively ended the debate in Congress as to whether or not to "provoke" the British by establishing a Navy as Washington's ships had already captured British ships, somewhat a provocation.
While Congress deliberated, it received word that two unarmed British supply ships from England were heading towards Quebec without escort. A plan was drawn up to intercept the ships however, the armed vessels to be used were owned not by Congress, but by individual colonies. Of greater significance then was an additional plan to equip two ships that would operate under the direct authority of Congress to capture British supply ships. This was not carried out until 13 October 1775, when George Washington announced that he had taken command of three armed schooners under Continental authority to intercept any British supply ships near Massachusetts. With the revelation that vessels were already sailing under Continental control, the decision to add two more was made easier; the resolution was adopted and 13 October would later become known as the U.S. Navy's official birthday.
The Continental Navy achieved mixed results; it was successful in a number of engagements and raided many British merchant vessels, but it lost 24 of its vessels and at one point was reduced to two in active service. As Congress turned its attention after the conflict towards securing the western border of the new United States, a standing navy was considered to be dispensable because of its high operating costs and its limited number of roles.