The message Navy leaders are sending to President-elect Donald Trump’s team is: We need money to keep the current 274 ships in the fleet maintained and modernized first and then give us the money to buy more ships.
Speaking to the press at the Surface Navy Association meeting Tuesday in Crystal City, Va., Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran said the transition team “has really been open-minded” and asked probing questions about the service’s plans for the coming budget deliberations understanding the department is currently operating now under a continuing resolution.
Moran said he and CNO Adm. John Richardson, have met with the team twice, but the team meets with different departments in all the services more often to gain an understanding of how the Pentagon operates.
He added Undersecretary of Defense Bob Work stressed to all the services that he wanted the transition to be as smooth as possible so the incoming administration can “decide how much they want to do” with existing budgets and projected spending.
That also means almost certainly revising projections and re-doing the budget.
Moran said the Navy is “lucky to get 90 percent” of what it needs in its readiness accounts.
In talking with the press and in his address, he said, “It is really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel” if maintenance is continuously deferred, causing ships to be in the yards far longer in the yards than expected with costs rising commensurately.
“Deferred maintenance is insidiously taking its toll.”
Not only does this add greater risk and a growing gap between the combatant commanders’ requirements and what the service can deliver, “you can’t buy back that experience” and proficiency sailors lose when they can’t use their skills at sea.
“At some point, we have to dig ourselves out of the hole,” Moran said in his address,
One announced goal of candidate Trump was to increase the size of the Navy to 350 ships. Last month, the service released its latest Force Structure Assesment which called for 355 ships.
During his address, Moran mentioned several independent studies the Navy started before the presidential campaign began and the conclusions of all were to have a fleet of that size. “We stand by that work.”
Citing the nine continuing resolutions the Pentagon has operated with at the beginning of the fiscal year, the threat of across-the-board cuts of sequestration and agreed upon budget caps, he said there is no guarantee that there will be more money to buy more ships.
If there is more money, Moran said the Navy has a plan which kinds of ships would be first to build.
As for tough questioning on Capitol Hill on acquisition or “cultural issues,” Moran said in answer to an audience question, “Politics are what they are.” It was important to recognize “there are two parties there” and “you can’t go in with an absolute position” when testifying or meeting with congressional leaders.
“Size does indeed matter. Size doesn’t really matter if it’s not whole,” he said on expanding fleet size and keeping ships and crews ready. The former chief of naval personnel stressed people matter most. “When I say people I mean sailors, Navy civilians, engineers, yard workers, academia and industry.”