WASHINGTON — Navy and Marine Corps leaders warned lawmakers about the consequences of further defense cuts Wednesday, as the Navy struggles to return to a 300-ship fleet.
The fiscal 2015 Navy budget proposal, which was supposed to be the topic of Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing, was largely ignored as senior military leaders and members of Congress painted a picture of looming disaster if sequestration-mandated budget cuts are allowed to go into effect in 2016 and beyond.
The Defense Department is requesting $496 billion for next year, which is the maximum amount allowed under last year’s bipartisan budget deal. It is $45 billion less than what Pentagon leaders wanted last year. Over the course of the next five years, DOD is requesting $113 billion less than it hoped to receive when last year’s long-term budget plans were submitted. The Navy and Marines are requesting $38 billion less over the course of the Future Years Defense Program than they wanted last year.
If current law stands, large sequestration cuts to the military budget will go back into full effect in fiscal 2016, the department will get $115 billion less than it believes it needs to meet strategic requirements, and all the services will be hit by the cuts.
If current law stands, large sequestration cuts to the military budget will go back into full effect in fiscal 2016, the department will get $115 billion less than it believes it needs to meet strategic requirements, all the services will be hit by the cuts.
“I don’t even know why we’re going through this [budget discussion] this year because the [$496 billion] number is already set,” committee chairman Rep. Buck McKeon said. “[But] it’s important that we have a good debate about this [and] that the American people understand … what the numbers look like going forward for the next several years. I think it’s putting us in great jeopardy.”
McKeon called impending force level reductions “a fundamental, piecemeal dismantling of the world’s greatest Navy.”
Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the committee, also focused on future years’ budget projections.
“As bad as the FY15 budget is for a lot of the cuts that have been proposed, it’s going forward beyond that I think is the real challenge,” he said. “If we leave sequestration in place … then the 2015 budget is going to be looked back on as the high-water mark of what we’ve accomplished in national security.”
The Navy and Marine Corps service chiefs echoed lawmakers’ warnings.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations, laid out the consequences of allowing sequestration to go forward.
He said force reductions precipitated by sequestration would leave the Navy too small to fulfill four of its 10 primary missions, as laid out in the national defense strategy.
He said it would necessitate the elimination of one of the service’s 11 aircraft carriers and a naval air wing. That would jeopardize the military’s Asia pivot, according to Greenert.
“The Asia-Pacific is important. And we are rebalancing toward it. [But] if you go from 11 to 10 carriers, you exacerbate that what is already a very difficult [force requirement] problem to the point where … the deterrence factor goes down dramatically when you have gaps [like that]. And it’s a risk that we assume and I worry about,” he said.
Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, outlined the problems that would result from dropping down Marine Corps active-duty end strength to 175,000 and 21 Marine infantry combat battalions, which would be required under sequestration.
He described it as a “moderate risk” force.
“What this means is your Marine Corps would be all in [in the event of a large contingency operation] … There’s risk involved with that because there’s other places around the world where things might well be happening that would require a presence of Marines. This is going to require a presidential recall of our Reserves [to deal with another contingency] … There is a sense of the units that remain back home will be less ready … It will be longer for them to get there … and eventually when you start running out of Marines in a major theater war, you’re going to go from boot camp to battlefield,” Amos said.
Navy force levels have dropped significantly since Sept. 11, 2001, despite a massive increase in the overall defense budget since that time. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told lawmakers that in 2001, the service had 316 ships, but by 2008 that number had dropped to 278. By 2020, Navy plans call for the fleet to increase to 300 ships, but that won’t be possible under sequestration, according to Mabus.
Navy officials have said that 306 ships are needed to meet national security requirements. Greenert said he would need a 450-ship Navy to meet all the demands put forth by the geographic combatant commanders.