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Navy Still Struggling With Readiness Balance Between Overseas and U.S.-based Forces

Amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) prepares to pass Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force general purpose destroyer JS Kirisame (DD 104) on its return to Commander, U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo on Sept. 25, 2017. US Navy Photo

CAPITOL HILL — Uneven readiness preparations favored funding deployed forces over those based in the U.S., creates a “tale of two navies” that persists, service leaders told a congressional panel on Tuesday.

A year ago, forward deployed units were described as being operationally ready to respond to any challenge, something U.S.-based units were not ready to do, said, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), during a Tuesday House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing.

She asked if the strain on U.S.-based units been reduced since then.

“I would say it still is a tale of two Navies, absolutely, and the reason is because we haven’t received the additional funding that’s requested in the FY 18 bill,” said Vice Adm. William “Bill” Lescher, in charge of the Navy’s integration of capabilities and resources.

The Navy is currently operating under Fiscal Year 2017 funding levels as part of the latest continuing resolution, Lescher said. The FY 2017 budget did not provide enough funding to pay for supplies and critical infrastructure projects, he said. the Navy would not be able to work on a backlog of readiness-related projects until the FY 2018 and FY 2019 budgets were approved.

Rep. Joe Wilson, (R-S.C.), the readiness subcommittee chair, asked about a current readiness issue related to the Navy’s heavy lift capabilities. The Navy grounded its fleet of C-130-T cargo planes in July after a Marine Corps operated KC-130T crashed in Mississippi.

The four-engine turboprop planes – the backbone of the Navy’s ability to transport supplies and people between theaters – remain grounded because the Navy hasn’t received the $121 million required to purchase a new propeller system needed to get aircraft working again.

What has grounding the C-130T cargo planes done to readiness, Wilson asked.

“Right now, we have 42 percent degradation in that capability and that is related to the grounding of the C-130 Tangos,” said Vice Admiral Luke M. McCollum, chief of the Navy’s reserve force.

The Navy relies on reservists to crew its fleet of C-130T and C-40A cargo planes. To pick up the slack, McCollum said his fleet of reservists operated C-40 A aircraft are currently operating at 100 percent capacity.

If funded, McCollum said he estimates replacing the propeller systems would take between 12 and 18 months. Fulling funding the program now would help the Navy finish the program sooner. The propeller systems, though, are currently listed as unfunded priorities in the Navy’s FY 2019 budget request.

“The Navy is laser-focused on executing this funding responsibly, closely scrutinizing the spending while driving performance,” Lescher said.