Navy Mulling Taking Sailors off Forward Deployed Ships as Part $40B Savings Drive

March 11, 2020 8:22 PM
Sailors assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG-78) respond to a man-overboard drill during a steel beach picnic in the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 25, 2019. US Navy Photo

Manning forward-deployed ships with fewer sailors, making less carrier strike groups available to deploy and reducing the size of command staffs are moves the Navy is considering as part of its drive to reduce $40 billion from its budget, according to a February memo outlining the cuts under consideration reviewed by USNI News.

Faced with a mandate from the White House to build at least a 350-ship fleet but with no additional funds forthcoming from big Pentagon, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly announced last month the Navy would undertake a Stem to Stern review to reduce spending much like the Army did with its program of so-called “night court” efficiencies.

“The bottom line is that we need to find at least $40 billion in real line-of-accounting savings to fund the development, construction, and sustainment of this new fleet over the next 5 years, and to set the Department up for continuing this trajectory in the 5 years that follow,” according to a Feb. 18 memo issued by Modly and first reported by USNI News.

Two days later, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke followed up with a note to Navy leaders that the service needed to squeeze $5 billion from the Navy’s discretionary funds from its Fiscal Year 2022 budget submission to its modernization goals.

“While we will continue to work for additional top-line funding and/or separate non-Navy funding for Columbia, the Secretary of Defense has made it clear that neither will be likely in the short term – the other Services are simply facing similar challenges,” wrote Burke.
“Therefore, we will take an in-depth, detailed, critical and objective internal look for how we can free up the funds needed to enable the required naval force structure growth, or as much of it as we can; within our own means.”

The move is a departure from fleet build-ups in the past. When the Reagan administration began building up to its 600-ship Navy program in the 1980s, the administration increased the shipbuilding account by 43 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office report at the time.

Under instructions from Burke, members of the committees have until April 7 to cobble together a list of recommendations to shed $5 billion from Navy discretionary funds – about 6 percent.

In the memo sent from Burke to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s staff, and the commanders of U.S. Fleet Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe outlines a starting point for the Navy’s stem-to-stern review to route money to the Navy’s modernization priorities

As a starting point, Burke outlined several areas to consider for reductions.

  • Elimination of U.S. 4th Fleet Headquarters and consolidating the command with U.S. Fleet Forces.
  • Consolidating type commanders.
  • Finding savings available through reduced offerings to U.S. combatant commanders, “to include fewer Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups and independent deployers.”
  • VCNO, SECNAV “will contract an external analytic agency to examine all Navy and Secretariat controlled civilian manpower, to put metrics toward civilian personnel investments and help leaders evaluate return on investment.”
  • USFF and Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet will task respective Type Commanders to analyze alternative minimum safe manning levels to ensure sustained forward-deployed operations. Considerations should include proper watch-team manning and sufficient numbers of qualified watch team s to support sustained operations at sea.
  • Automate, digitize more functions.
  • Reduce headquarters staff, functions.
  • Examine the operations and maintenance accounts for additional savings.

According to a summary of the required savings Burke included in the memo, the Navy would need to see an average of 7 percent of its discretionary spending be shifted to pay for the modernization efforts.

Totals in Billions FY 2021 FY 2022 FY 2023 FY 2024 FY 2025 FY 2026 Total
Navy TOA $158.80 $158.70 $165.30 $169.00 $174.10 TBD $825.90
Discretionary $87.20 $85.30 $88.70 $89.10 $91.70 TBD TBD
Target Savings $5.00 $6.00 $6.00 $7.00 $7.00 $31.00
Percent of Discretionary 6% 7% 7% 8% 7% 7%

Some of the moves, particularly on the personnel side, would reverse some strides the Navy has made after the surface warfare reforms following the fatal collisions in the Western Pacific that killed 17 sailors. A comprehensive review of forward-deployed ships found the surface ships in the Pacific needed more sailors to operate well. The Navy has since made efforts to put more sailors on ships to meet minimum mannig requirements.

On Feb. 5, commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Richard Brown testified to the House Armed Service Committee that adding sailors to forward ships is, “absolutely, it’s the right thing to do.”

Burke told the members of the group conducting the study the process would be complex and could spark conflict in the service.

“This work will be hard. Some of our teammates may feel threatened by the fact we are examining these options, perhaps seeing their jobs at risk. Others will point out that some of these are just bad ideas, or that they ‘ve been considered or even tried before,” Burke said.
“The Navy needs your leadership on this – we have to be clear and unapologetic, we are at the point of no return here – if we do nothing today, and 10 years from now we have an inadequately sized and improperly equipped fleet with overhead and HQ functions operating as they are today, that fleet’s fate will be on us.”

In a statement to USNI News a Navy spokesperson said of the review, “By focusing on processes that free up time, money, and manpower, [stem to stern] will directly inform development of future Department of the Navy budgets – this is a strategic imperative. The Navy is committed to recapitalizing our nuclear ballistic missile submarine force, continuing to prioritize further readiness recovery, while also investing in increased lethality/modernization and growing capable capacity.”

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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