The number of Navy ships with April deployments that have either been canceled or cut short due to sequestration is now up to six.
The USS Kauffman, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate; the USNS Comfort, a Military Sealift Command hospital ship; the USNS Grasp, a Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship, and their support units will join the attack submarine USS Jefferson City and the guided missile frigates USS Rentz and USS Thach pier side come April.
The decision was made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and relayed to the media through two separate announcements Friday by the U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
“Each respective chain of command has begun to notify the affected sailors and civilian mariners of these cancellations,” the Fleet Forces statement said concerning the Kauffman, Comfort and Grasp. “The ships will remain in their respective homeports while crews conduct training and maintenance.”
The Naval Station Norfolk-based Kauffman and Comfort had been scheduled to deploy to the U.S Southern Command area of responsibility while the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek- based Grasp was slated to head for U.S. European Command waters, the statement said.
The Pacific Fleet statement did not indicate where the San Diego-based Jefferson City and Rentz were scheduled to go. The Thach is currently deployed to the U.S. Southern Command but has been instructed to return home to San Diego come April.
The statements said Hagel had directed both the Pacific Fleet and Fleet Forces to prioritize resources to support forward-deployed forces and the units being trained to replace them. While the decision to cancel the deployments was delayed until the last possible moment, each command had been instructed to prepare for it.
Taking six ships off the water — coupled with the slashing of maintenance budgets that may limit the Navy to a single crisis-ready carrier — appears certain to alter the capabilities and tempo of Navy operations around the world. In a March 12 speech, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said the cuts could reduce the operations of Navy ships and aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region by as much as one-third and leave gaps in the availability of Marine Amphibious Ready Groups.
In addition to the canceled deployments, at least four carrier air wings will cease flying and two will drop to sustaining levels, Carter said.