Under Budget Pressure, Sea Services Find Ways to Cut Costs


By Allyson Versprille

Adm. Jonathan Greenert

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Budget pressures are forcing the sea services to get more creative. The Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps have curtailed modernization efforts and cut personnel. But there is an upside to austerity,service chiefs said April 13 at the Navy League’s 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.

One area of opportunity is recruitment. With smaller forces, the services can be more selective when enlisting new members.  “We’re recruiting high quality people right now,” said Gen. Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps. “I think we’re actually going to be able to take advantage of the drawdown from 202,000 down to 182,000 to be a bit more selective.” 

Budget cuts in the past have led to creative approaches, said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations. One example is the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), he said. The Navy used to have 18 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines but the U.S. government determined it needed only 14. The Navy repurposed the remaining four submarines as guided missile carriers. They used the existing nuclear ballistic missile tubes to hold cruise missiles with each carrier containing up to 108 missiles. This adds a lot of firepower and a lot of stealth, said Greenert. 

The Coast Guard has sought to trim fat from its procurement programs, said Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The key is stable requirements and fixed-price contracting, he said. He pointed to the fast response cutter as an acquisition success. The service is building 58 of the patrol boats with a commercial, off-the-shelf design. “They are paying great dividends for us,” said Zukunft. “They are being built on time, on budget and with very stable requirements.”

The Coast Guard will acquire 25 off-shore patrol cutters in the near future which will be the largest acquisition in the service’s history, said Zukunft. The new cutter will replace 270-foot and 210-foot medium endurance cutters, which have become increasingly expensive to maintain and operate. Additionally, the Coast Guard recently acquired 14 C-27Js tactical transport aircraft in like-new condition at no cost from the Air Force, said Zukunft. “Anytime you get something for nothing, I think that’s really being creative, and our acquisition folks are doing just that.”

Greater use of 3D virtual reality and simulations as substitutes for live training also are viewed as money savers. “We can save an enormous amount of time [and] it’s not very expensive. The kinds of simulation that I saw cost tens of thousands of dollars to build,” said Greenert. “A [traditional] laboratory would cost billions of dollars.”

The area that has shown the most promise is immersive training, said Dunford. That technology proved valuable in preparing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he added. “We are looking at the capacity and capability to completely immerse our units in an environment where they can learn to make ethical decisions in a timely manner, and get … 10,000 hours of repetition” before making contact with the enemy, said Dunford.

Although the services are adjusting to shrinking budgets, the chiefs are still hopeful to get relief from Congress. The Marine Corps is at historic low levels in ground modernization, said Dunford. The service is falling behind in cyber warfare, command-and-control system modernization and ground tactical training.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget

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