Navy official: Sequestration cuts would mean ‘difficult choices’
By CRISTINA SILVA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 24, 2012
NAPLES, Italy — Automatic spending cuts slated to take effect in January will mean fewer flying hours for Navy aircrews, fewer training days for ships and submarines and less fleet maintenance, with nondeployed servicemembers facing the steepest reductions, according to a senior Navy official.
Adm. Mark Ferguson, vice chief of naval operations, said the so-called sequestration process would reduce the Navy’s funding by $12 billion next year, resulting in a smaller force with longer response times.
“Difficult choices” regarding fleet maintenance, ship purchases and base support services would begin to take shape in March or April, Ferguson wrote in a Sunday post on the Navy’s official blog.
“Potential cuts or reductions beyond those already taken in this year’s proposed budget will result over time in a smaller force with less presence, longer response times, and reduced ability to provide surge forces in support of our major war plans and other emergent needs,” Ferguson wrote in a post summarizing remarks he made during a joint appearance last week with other top military leaders before the House Armed Services Committee.
“Bottom line: … if sequestration is enacted in January and these cuts continue as planned, we will not be able to afford the Navy we have today in the future,” Ferguson wrote.
His warnings came as defense leaders are urging Congress to stop the $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts scheduled to start in January. The Pentagon faces $500 billion in automatic reductions over 10 years under the budget-shrinking solution passed by Congress in 2011 after a bipartisan committee failed to come up with an alternative plan to lower the nation’s $1.1 trillion deficit.
Under the sequestration law, roughly $54 billion will be trimmed from both defense and nondefense discretionary spending accounts in 2013. Military personnel and many veterans programs are to be protected from the cuts, defense officials have said.
Of the Navy’s $12 billion projected budget loss next year, $4 billion would affect operations and maintenance accounts, including civilian personnel and training, Ferguson said. It’s unclear how many civilian employees could lose their jobs.
“These reductions will translate to reduced flying hours for our aircrews, fewer underway training days for our ships and submarines, and less maintenance for the fleet,” Ferguson wrote.
The Navy’s shipbuilding and aircraft budget would also see a $4 billion hit, Ferguson wrote.
“At this point, it is difficult to know for sure the impact on any individual program, or family of programs,” he wrote. “What we do know is that it will surely affect our ability to build the future Navy.”
Meanwhile, a Government Accountability Office report published Friday concluded that, to improve the readiness of its surface combatant and amphibious warships, the Navy must address staffing shortages and regularly maintain its ships. Under its current readiness strategy, the Navy could see increased maintenance costs, a reduced ability to support new and ongoing missions, and shorter service lives for some ships, if it fails to assess risks and how to address them, according to the GAO report.
“This could impact the Navy’s ability to meet its long-term commitments,” the report concluded.
Quick turnarounds between deployments means repairs are often deferred, shortening the life of the fleet, increasing maintenance costs and creating a continuous cycle of reduced readiness, according to the report. When ships are retired early, the remaining fleet must deploy more frequently, leaving less time for maintenance, the audit found.
Navy inspectors rated 33 percent of all cruisers and amphibious ships “unsatisfactory” from 2008 through 2012, meaning the ships were unable to carry out missions.
In a response to the audit, defense leaders agreed that the Navy needs to better assess risks in its readiness strategy, but added that budgetary decisions are beyond the Pentagon’s control.