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Navy Tells Congress Budget Cuts Hurt Readiness

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File photo of Adm. Mark Ferguson. US Navy Photo

File photo of Adm. Mark Ferguson. US Navy Photo 

Department of the Navy officials testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday on the devastating effects the ongoing Continuing Resolution and looming sequestration would have on the services.

By allowing sequestration—the across-the-board cuts—to take effect 1 March and hamstringing the Pentagon and the services as to what they can do under a Continuing Resolution through 27 March, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said, “We just put the federal government . . . in a position of owing the military a lot of money” to repair the damage caused by deferred maintenance and canceling contracts.

“Ships are going to cost more,” because buys have been reduced and construction times stretched out. “Deferred maintenance is not savings,” Sen. Angus King (I-ME), who caucuses with the Democrats, said.

The impact of sequestration will be felt immediately in all the services as they search for $46 billion in cuts, but the long-term consequences of not passing a proper spending bill likely will affect the Navy—with its long-lead contracts and multiyear buys—the most in the years to come.

Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defense, said the Navy’s cancellation of the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) carrier strike group to the Middle East was part of the “purely collateral damage of political gridlock,” and it has a direct effect on sailors and their families. All their plans for the immediate future were scuttled, and “it all changed within a couple of days.”

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson put the impact of sequestration on the Navy at $4 billion in its operations and maintenance accounts—think training and also think civilian employees’ pay—and $7 billion in its investment accounts, that is, future shipbuilding and aircraft buys, research and development, and science and technology accounts in areas such as underwater dominance.

On “February 15, we will begin notifying shipyards,” Ferguson said about furloughs and taking steps to shut down four air wings (with its impact on pilot certification if they do not maintain flying hours—a possibility) in addition to canceling the Truman deployment to meet the added cuts for this year. Over the 10 years of constant $50 billion in annual cuts, Ferguson said it would mean a fleet of between 220 and 230 ships with at least two carrier strike groups affected.

The Defense Department based its Fiscal Year 2013 budget on a projected $487 cut in projected 10-year Pentagon spending. The across-the-board cuts the department and other federal agencies except the Department of Veterans Affairs face are on top of that.

As an expeditionary force, Commandant Gen. James Amos said, “the Marine Corps places high emphasis on readiness,” but sequestration will put 50 percent of the force below acceptable readiness levels for deployment and that “inevitably leads to a hollow force.” He also cited its impact on the Marines’ future contribution to special operations forces. Amos said there are about 2,500 Marines in those forces now, and under the current strategy, he planned to send an additional 1,000. The Marines “certainly will not be able to meet” that goal.

Looking at the Continuing Resolution’s impact on the Fleet, Ferguson said three carriers “are now tied up [in deferring maintenance] or construction.” Carter put it this way: Admiral Ferguson “is only able to build the ship he built last year” under the rules covering spending. “It makes no sense.”

The impact on the Navy’s industrial base—government and private—is already being felt. Ferguson said Navy yards are losing 350 workers a week as maintenance slows. Zeroing in on one field, he said, it takes “years to train a nuclear welder” and younger workers may be saying to themselves, “that’s not my career path” if there is little job security in ship maintenance and construction.

“We have many sole-source suppliers,” who might not survive years of defense spending cuts or on-again, off-again work, Ferguson said.

Even if all 800,000 defense employees were furloughed for the maximum 22 days, Carter said that would only provide $5 billion in savings, leaving $41 billion more to come out of this year’s budget. “We have to go everywhere to get the $46 billion.”

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John Grady

About John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense, GovExec.com, NextGov.com, DefenseOne.com, Government Executive and USNI News.