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National Defense > Blog > Posts > For the Navy, Sequester Equals Fewer Ships at Sea
For the Navy, Sequester Equals Fewer Ships at Sea
By Sandra I. Erwin


Work continues on the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

Navy officials are dissecting every contract as they prepare for the possibility of having to terminate or delay the procurement of ships and aircraft beginning in 2014.

“We are looking at all programs,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. “We are still working to understand the fiscal situation if sequestration is the rule of the day.”

There is no sign that Congress intends to reverse the automatic budget cuts that began in 2013 and by law could continue until 2021. For the Defense Department, that means losing approximately $50 billion per year. The Navy’s share is $14 billion. If the reductions stay in place for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the Navy, like all other military and civilian agencies, would have to trim every program by about 10 percent. If military payroll and benefits are spared from the sequester, as they were in 2013, every other program would take a 14 percent hit.

How the Navy would absorb those cuts is still being debated, Greenert said July 19 at a Pentagon news conference. Among the possible scenarios are postponements of new ship construction and having fewer forward-deployed vessels.

The 2013 sequester forced the Navy to delay ship maintenance work and call off deployments, but did not result in the cancellation of big-ticket procurements. One of the reasons was the availability of “prior-year” funds that had not been spent and could be used to shore up 2013 shortfalls. Those unspent funds are now gone, which means that a 2014 sequester would limit the Navy’s options, Greenert said.

A 14 percent drop in procurement budgets would result in “deeper cuts to investments” in new ships and aircraft, he said. “My goal and the secretary’s goal would be to preserve shipbuilding and aviation contracts as much as possible, meet our forward presence requirements and make sure we hold on to our multiyear procurements,” said Greenert. But as sequester settles in, protecting those programs may no longer be realistic, he added. “Those reductions are real.”

Shipbuilders should brace for the possibility of contract cancellations or changes to delivery schedules, said Greenert. “We are sitting down and looking specifically at what we contracted to do. … We’ll look at each line item and what it costs.”

The Navy currently has 55 ships under contract. Individual pieces of a ship contract, including design, construction and spare parts, could be renegotiated so that work is delayed until the Navy can restore funding in the program. “We will deal with each builder," said Greenert. No programs have yet been identified as candidates for major restructuring.

“These contracts can be perturbed. … But many of them are well along their way,” said Greenert. Some agreements were written with enough flexibility to make adjustments, but others were not. Having to undo a multiyear contract is especially disruptive and costly, he said, because it raises the per-unit cost of a system.

How sequester would affect the Navy’s $14 billion shipbuilding budget in 2014 is still unknown, said Greenert. He said it is too soon to predict whether next year’s sequester will derail a long-term plan to increase the size of the fleet from 286 to 306 ships over the next decade. The objective still is to expand the fleet, said Greenert, but if multiyear contracts unravel and unit prices go up, there is a chance that the shipbuilding plan will begin to “spiral down.”

If sequestration continues beyond 2014, he said, “I’m pretty confident we will not be able to meet those goals. It’s too much.”

One immediate consequence of the 2013 sequester was a reduction in the number of ships deployed, from 105 a year go to 95 today. About 3,700 aircraft are in operation. With less money for ship maintenance and air wing training, fewer vessels and carrier battle groups are combat ready, said Greenert. In 2014, about half of 60 planned shipyard repair jobs might have to be deferred if sequester stays in place, he said.

To keep the fleet trained and equipped, the Navy is seeking congressional approval to move funds from other accounts to ship maintenance and pilot training, said Greenert. Fewer aircraft carrier and amphibious ready battle groups will be available to deploy on short notice, Greenert said. The norm for the Navy and Marine Corps has been to have three carrier battle groups and three amphibious ready groups able to respond to a crisis within a week. There is now only one carrier and one amphibious ready group each in the Persian Gulf and in the Western Pacific. “A year ago, we would have had three and three ready to surge.”

The decline in “surge forces” is not obvious from the outside, “but it is a real issue,” said Greenert.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has insisted that the service’s 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for a minimum of 306 ships. But Greenert acknowledged that it would be “very difficult” to achieve that if sequestration goes on for the next 10 years.

Greenert, however, fell short of endorsing the dire warnings issued by naval advocates about the looming decline of U.S. military clout that would result from a smaller fleet. His predecessor, retired Adm. Gary Roughead, has said he echoes the concerns of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney adviser Seth Cropsey, who recently published a book called, “Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy.” He warned that, based on current ship procurement forecasts, the Navy is headed toward irreversible loss of power and influence around the world.
Greenert said the current trends are “worrisome” but suggested it would be premature to sound alarms.

The Navy, even with the current size fleet, will begin to shift forces to Asia as part of the broader U.S. military strategy. The numbers of ships and aircraft, especially in the Western Pacific, “are going to go up,” Greenert said. “It's not budget proof, but it's budget resistant.” Naval forces will gradually transition to a 60-40 distribution, west and east, from the current 57-43, he said. “That is on track, but slowing down.”

Photo Credit: Navy

Comments

Re:  For the Navy, Sequester Equals Fewer Ships at Sea

This is good news. Our Admirals are not wearing out ships and crews with senseless deployments. Why do minesweepers, amphibs, and MPS cargo ships cruise around wasting fuel for months at a time? Fewer deployed ships means more ready for wartime surges. Cancelling an overseas deployment increases readiness! Ships can train just off our coasts just as well as the I/O.

Let's hope someone ends the mindless idea of putting four destroyer size ships armed like PT boats (aka LCS) at Singapore, to deter who? Pirates armed with AKs?
Carlton Meyer at 7/21/2013 5:36 PM

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