111008-N-BT887-682

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations.

PENTAGON: The Navy has 10 fewer ships worldwide compared to just a few months ago. It has no warships at all off South America to help combat the drug trade. And training cutbacks will force many units to specialize in a sub-set of their assigned missions instead of getting ready for the full range of tasks required. Those are just some of the consequences so far of the ongoing budget cuts called sequestration, as outlined this morning for reporters by the Chief of Naval Operations.

Next year, if full sequestration continues — and there’s no political movement so far towards a fix — the Navy will have to pay its $14 billion share of the cuts by canceling major maintenance “availabilities” for some 60 ships and conduct line by line reviews of procurement contracts to find ways to trim costs without reducing the number of ships and planes it buys.

Some of sequester’s effects have been well publicized already. The Defense Department will put all its civilian employees on 11 days of unpaid leave, or “furlough.” The Navy halved the number of aircraft carriers it keeps on station in the Persian Gulf. The Army cancelled major training exercises for 78 percent of its combat brigades. The Air Force initially grounded a third of its combat squadrons — although a congressionally approved “reprogramming” of money has allowed those planes to fly again, but at the price of spending less on new technology. Today, Adm. Greenert explained some of the subtler but still painful effects on the US Navy.

Just like the Air Force, the Navy has requested reprogramming authority from Congress, and the CNO hopes for approval soon. “I’m asking for the same thing as the Air Force” with regards to flight training, Greenert said: He wants to get at least those carrier air wings that will soon deploy “above tactical hard deck,” Navy jargon for the 11 hours of flight time per crew per month considered the minimum to retain pilot proficiency.

The CNO’s “priority one” is getting ships into the shipyards for the major maintenance overhauls known as availabilities.”I have about eight of them that I really want to get done this year because they support [20]14 and ’15 deployments,” he said. (If you defer maintenance on a ship one year, it won’t be ready to deploy the next).

Congress took some of the edge off sequestration, Greenert said. “The fiscal year ’13 appropriations bill helped us quite a bit,” he said, by providing enough funds to keep one carrier strike group and one amphibious ready group (a task force carrying Marines) always on patrol in the Western Pacific, and one CSG and one ARG in the Persian Gulf (about half the two-carrier presence off Iran that the Navy has maintained until recently).

“Those that we send over now, those we send over in ’14, they will be trained for the full range of missions,” Greenert said. “[But with] the backup, the surge force, we’re not where we need to be”: Just one CSG and one ARG are available to deploy rapidly from the US in a crisis, compared to three and three a year ago.

It’s not that the rest of the fleet can’t sail in an emergency, but they’re not going to be fully ready for the full range of missions that war plans require. A DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer, for example, can bombard targets deep inland with cruise missiles, fight other ships, shoot down hostile aircraft, or — for the latest versions — even intercept ballistic missiles; a Super Hornet fighter squadron can fight other aircraft, attack ships, or strike targets on land in support of US ground forces. These different missions require different skills and therefore different kinds of training. But under sequester, there isn’t enough money for every unit to train on all its missions, Greenert said.

So the Navy must pick and choose. Instead of each unit being able to take on its full range of missions, many will have to specialize in a particular subset. Which units should give up which missions, however, requires the Navy to make educated guesses about just what kinds of needs and crises will arise in the coming months and years — something that is notoriously unpredictable. It’s not disastrous, but it is disconcerting, because it eliminates much of the Navy’s margin for error.

There are some missions so basic to naval warfare that they will not suffer, the admiral emphasized. Pirates should still be running scared, for starters. While the Gulf of Aden off Somalia is relatively quiet, there’s been a troubling upward trend in piracy incidents in the Gulf of Oman over the last eight months. On the other hand, Greenert admitted, there may be some erosion in specialized skills such as “visit, board, search, and seizure” (VBSS) of suspicious vessels.

There are also ways to innovate around some of the cutbacks, Greenert said. In Latin America, for example, at leas for the moment, “sequestration has effectively caused us to reduce our combatant ships to zero,” he said, but there are other Navy assets that can assist the drug war. For example, the Navy’s new Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) Spearhead will deploy to the Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) region next year. While the JHSV is not a warship, and its crew are civilians rather than military personnel, it has both considerable transport capacity — say, for law enforcement personnel — and the command, control, and communications gear to direct counter-drug operations.

The Navy has also protected much of its “rebalancing” to the Pacific, the top priority set in the January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance. “It’s not budget-proof, but it’s budget-resilient,” Greenert said. The shifting of ships from East Coast to West Coast bases, for example, has slowed but will not stop until the Navy achieves its goal of a 40:60 ratio between the Atlantic and Pacific fleets.

In the long run, however, full sequestration will cut into shipbuilding and shrink the Navy. “If you take sequestration for 10 years, that is a worrisome trend,” said Greenert. It will be difficult if not impossible to grow the Navy from its current 286 ships to the 306 that Pentagon planners consider essential to execute the current strategy.

“What we have to do is reconcile what kind of Navy can we deliver with this kind of funding,” said Greenert, “[with] what do we expect that Navy to do.” How to answer that question, he added, is now in the hands of Secretary Chuck Hagel’s SCMR initiative, the Strategic Choices and Management Review.

Comments

  • LENOJ

    That’s what will happen if you no longer have money. Sometimes, you have to cut back expenses in order to regain lost glory. The complain and anguish would have been valid if USA still have BILLIONS to burn, but in reality, what you have is TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN DEBT. Besides, no navy in the world can match, for now, the naval power of the US. But then again, China is catching up though they are several decades behind the US. But then again, China has TRILLIONS OF SAVINGS while US has TRILLIONS OF DEBTS.

    • Evan

      You need to do your research,
      LENOJ. China’s debt is over $800 billion US dollars, and they even admit
      that it could be higher than that. Their debt is also continuing to
      rise, just like ours. As for the navy whining and complaining, they are
      being told to do the same job they’ve been doing, if not more so now
      with all the hot zones cropping up with less ships, service personnel,
      and money. I bet you’d whine if someone handed you a toothbrush instead
      of a sponge or brush and told you to clean the bathroom with it.

      Our navy is supposed to be able to strike targets from a distance. To
      do so not only requires that they defeat enemy naval forces, but also
      be able to attack strategic, land-based targets and defend itself
      against land-based missiles and aircraft. Remember that not all of the
      current 286 ships in the fleet are active at the same time. As stated in
      this article, ships require routine maintenance, overhauls, etc. So get
      your facts straight LENOJ, and show some respect to those that protect
      your freedom to say your ill-thought, ill-researched reply.

      • Curtis Conway

        US Armed Forces are required to maintain Treaty Obligations. This is something this administration conveniently ignores. However, since when did this administration concern itself with the law.

  • LENOJ

    Buying less and fewer toys is the direct and logical result of having no money….PERIOD…So stop acting and whining and complaining NAVY…

  • Evan

    You need to do your research, LENOJ. China’s debt is over $800 billion US dollars, and they even admit that it could be higher than that. Their debt is also continuing to rise, just like ours. As for the navy whining and complaining, they are being told to do the same job they’ve been doing, if not more so now with all the hot zones cropping up with less ships, service personnel, and money. I bet you’d whine if someone handed you a toothbrush instead of a sponge or brush and told you to clean the bathroom with it.

    Our navy is supposed to be able to strike targets from a distance. To do so not only requires that they defeat enemy naval forces, but also be able to attack strategic, land-based targets and defend itself against land-based missiles and aircraft. Remember that not all of the current 286 ships in the fleet are active at the same time. As stated in this article, ships require routine maintenance, overhauls, etc. So get your facts straight LENOJ, and show some respect to those that protect your freedom to say your ill-thought, ill-researched reply.

    • Don Bacon

      show some respect to those that protect your freedom

      Freedberg’s post, based on info from Greenert, includes only four (4) Navy operational tasks/missions:
      –one carrier strike group and one amphibious ready group (a task force carrying Marines) always on patrol in the Western Pacific (currently CVN-73 George Washington)
      –one CSG and one ARG in the Persian Gulf (currently CVN-68 Nimitz)
      –piracy incidents in the Gulf of Oman (off Iran)
      –drug war off South America

      Of the four, of only the first can it be said the Navy mission is to “protect your freedom.”

      –The CSG in the Persian Guld serves no purpose since the AfPak War (which has nothing to do with US freedom) is winding down.
      –Iran has conducted anti-piray patrols and can handle piracy off its own coast.
      –The thirty-year drug war is a failure. Latin American countries don’t need and don’t want US warships off their coast.

      Finally, a discussion or debate on the proper size of the Navy has nothing to do with showing respect to those that serve. Nothing, zip, nada, zilch.

      • Curtis Conway

        To believe that Iran, with its nuclear program, is not a threat to the United States and our freedom is ludicrous. And to further assume that the Iranian’s would fight “piracy” in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, is even more ludicrous because some of the Iranian fringe is responsible for that piracy, which supports their stated policy of affecting an objective of being able to threaten traffic in the Strait in the first place.
        Mr. Bacon, have you ever been to the Persian Gulf? How about been ‘in country’ in the Arabian Gulf area? Those who have, have seen the activity, and read the message traffic of what is taking place and who is conducting that activity.
        As for deployable forces, an ARG with a USS America Class Light Carrier Battle Group (CVLBG) surrounded by FFG-7s would be quite effective. One would not have to have a full CSG. Aegis FFGs would be even more effective even on their own, particularly over an LCS.
        After SECDEF’s recent protestations, I’m trying to figure out how you Mothball a CVN!? Perhaps the United Kingdom would like to have one?

  • PolicyWonk

    the Navy will have to pay its $14 billion share of the cuts by canceling major maintenance “availabilities” for some 60 ships and conduct line by line reviews of procurement contracts to find ways to trim costs without reducing the number of ships and planes it buys.

    ================================
    The navy would be better off taking the advice of the USMC: A smaller force that’s 100% ready to fight, rather than allow the taxpayers investment deteriorate.

    Even with sequestration – our defense budget is still higher than the top ten defense budgets of the largest spending nations on the planet combined. If they want more ships, planes, and gear: FIX THE ACQUISITION SYSTEM.

    The whole thing should be put into receivership. The US taxpayer gets by far the lousiest deal for defense dollar spent.

  • Aurora

    I see Greenert’s wearing a trendy camo attire. What was wrong with khakis?

  • CaptainParker

    More chicken-little-ism from our big brass. Sure, cut back on the maintenance – and then you can come crying in a couple of years saying you need that many more NEW ships. How about quit wasting taxpayer dollars on grossly overpriced material? The littoral combat ship (a sorry excuse for a destroyer escort) and the F-35 that can’t land on a carrier are just two examples. How about cutting the ranks of the admirals and their expensive staffs by at least a third? Do we really justify having more flag officers than when the Navy had 1000-plus warships at the end of World War II? How about a complete overhaul of the DoD contract process – and require a contractor to produce a ship, plane or tank for an ironclad agreed price instead of the open-ended process that produces endless cost overruns that benefit only the fat corporations? Huh, huh?

    • Curtis Conway

      Hear Hear. Spot ON!

  • steak 101

    Hard for me to understand how a 2.5% non raise in fiscal funds requires all these cuts??? Is the money for Afghanistan and other hot spots included in the annual non inflation reduction! That could help explain the total reductions cited. When the country is up to its eyeballs in debt all have to help put us on a financially sound basis. Even the defense department! This retiree is not writing letters to Congress about the poor defense department needing more money!

  • Curtis Conway

    How does one go from the current 286 ships to the 306 ship sized US Navy, and ask them to do more when we are equipping the forces with less capable platforms. Every exchange of an FFG-7 for an LCS makes the US Navy weaker. False economy. Every combatant that responds to any situation must be able to handle what ever it finds. The LCS cannot do that! The US Navy needs an Aegis Guided Missile Frigate based upon the National Security Cutter design! Shut down the LCS and stand up the frigate program. Half the building program of very capable platforms makes more sense than building a ship that can only attempt to run away from and problem . . . and then the cruise missiles show up.