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Mabus: Automatic defense cuts could break ship, aircraft contracts

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks with servicemembers about looming cuts to the Pentagon's budget during an all-hands call at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., on Feb. 6, 2013. On Feb. 20, 2013, Mabus addressed similar questions at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan about the sequestration, which is scheduled to cut billions in across-the-board spending if Congress does not act by March 1.

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Massive cuts to the defense budget scheduled to take place March 1 could jeopardize acquisition of future Navy ships and planes purchased under multi-year contracts, the Navy’s top civilian leader said Wednesday.

F-18 jet fighters, submarines and other hardware have been purchased over several years with at least a 10 percent discount, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told Yokosuka sailors during an all-hands call.

If the automatic $55 billion in across-the-board 2013 defense cuts mandated by Congress take effect, they could cause the Navy to break some of its multi-year contracts.

“We’re going to get fewer ships, fewer aircraft, and it’s going to cost more,” Mabus said. “That’s why it’s just so mindless.”

Most of the questions Mabus took from the more than 1,000 sailors in attendance revolved around the looming sequestration, which would cut about $1 trillion from the federal budget through 2021, about half of which would come from defense.

The sequestration cuts would come on top of the roughly $487 billion that the Obama administration already agreed to in long-term Pentagon spending cuts.

Mabus said the sequestration cuts would result in decreased readiness.

Ships that have their maintenance periods canceled for budgetary reasons will have to make repairs “on the fly,” which Mabus conceded was more costly and of lesser quality than repairs at a shipyard.

“If a ship can’t go in for budget reasons, that ship goes to the back of the line,” Mabus said.

Mabus’ comments on the dangers of sequestration have largely been echoed by both Democrats and Republicans. The two parties agreed to the sequester in 2011 as a negative incentive to produce a bipartisan bill that would cut the federal deficit with targeted cuts.

When efforts at forging a bipartisan bill failed, Congress passed a resolution in December to continue spending at 2012 levels, which averted the original Jan. 1 sequestration deadline.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama warned that “meat cleaver” sequestration cuts would put the national economy — and hundreds of thousands of jobs — at risk.

Obama blamed congressional Republicans for not agreeing to a bill that would combine spending cuts with revenue increases created by closing tax loopholes.

GOP leaders responded Tuesday that it was Obama who was blocking a bipartisan compromise.

“We should close loopholes and carve-outs in the Tax Code, but that revenue should be used to lower rates across the board,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Tuesday.

Currently in recess, Congress is scheduled to reconvene Monday, four days prior to the sequestration deadline.

slavine@pstripes.osd.mil

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