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With chances mounting of another budget crunch, the Navy’s top officer sharpened the service’s arguments against it in a speech last week, painting a gloomy picture of a stalled-out fleet.
The Navy suffered an estimated $11 billion shortfall this fiscal year, $4 billion of it in maintenance and operations money. That bite could grow to $14 billion for the next year, which starts in October, if the massive sequester cuts again take effect, as many observers anticipate.
“Navy-wide, we’ll reduce training for those who are not going to deploy,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, who reiterated how a second year of sequestration would spell cutbacks across the Navy. with new details:
■ Cancel 34 ship availabilities, or roughly half of those scheduled, and 190 aircraft overhauls for the upcoming fiscal year.
■ Jettison 25 airplanes and drop flying hours for squadrons not preparing for an upcoming deployment; further reductions to training.
■ Possibly lay off civilians, if a voluntary retirement program doesn’t entice enough workers to leave.
■ Potentially halt funding for the construction of a littoral combat ship, an afloat forward-staging base, a destroyer, a Virginia-class attack submarine and procurement money for another, and a carrier overhaul.
■ Drop the fleet size from today’s 285 ships to 257 by 2020, if annual sequestration cuts continue to that year.
While still substantial, that fleet shrinkage is rosier than other recent estimates, including when the vice CNO told lawmakers earlier this year that an entire decade of cuts would force the brass to scrap 50 ships.
Greenert, in his Thursday appearance at the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington, D.C., also brought up another substantial concern: The number of carrier strike groups ready to deploy in an unforeseen crisis would drop from three to one.
“Our surge capacity, I predict, will be about one-third of the norm as we’re looking to ’14,” Greenert told the audience of policy experts and contractors.
The CNO said the Navy has the money available to fund a precision strike on Syria, as the administration is weighing, and that longer-term operations, such as imposing a no-fly zone, would impose higher costs.
“For ... the remainder of the weeks in September, we’re comfortable that we could accommodate the operations that would occur there,” Greenert said.