WASHINGTON — Sequestration has hurt the U.S. Navy’s surge capabilities, limiting the number of ships that could respond should a war or other contingency breakout, the Navy’s top officer said Friday.

“We’re not where we need to be in that regard,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told reporters at a Pentagon press briefing.

The Navy has two carrier strike groups and two amphibious readiness groups deployed around the world, but with sequestration forcing cutbacks, “the rest of the fleet is not ready to deploy with all capabilities needed,” Greenert said.

There is one carrier and amphib group able to deploy in an emergency, whereas “a year ago we had three ready to surge,” he said.

“If there was a contingency ... the surge force would be a concern.”

Of the $52 billion in automatic budget cuts within the Defense Department, the Navy has to absorb $14 billion, and is down 10 ships as a result, Greenert said.

Moving beyond fiscal 2014, as funding for training and preparedness is cut back, missions will have to be narrowed, making it harder to move units to different theaters as world events dictate, he said. For example, what an air wing is qualified to do depends on its pilots’ cockpit hours, so as those hours decrease, their mission set will also get smaller. Same holds true, he said, for a destroyer or a cruiser.

The carrier and amphibious assault groups — one each in the Western Pacific and in the Arabian Gulf — are sustainable through the end of fiscal 2014, but in Southern Command, “sequestration has effectively caused us to reduce our combatant ships to zero.”

“We have to reconcile what kind of navy can we deliver with this kind of funding, and what do we expect that navy to do,” he said.

Greenert also said he’s concerned that in the last eight months, piracy has increased in the Gulf of Oman. It’s not as bad as the piracy off the coast of Somalia was a few years ago, he said, but it’s a trend the Navy will continue to monitor.


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