by DAVID AXE
Automatic federal budget cuts set in motion last year by the U.S. Congress could have a “debilitating” effect on the Navy’s readiness for the next two years. In fact, the impact is already being felt — and the automatic “sequestration” is still two weeks away.
The Navy stands to lose 13 percent of its funding starting March 1, unless the Congress and Pres. Barack Obama can agree on a plan to reduce the federal budget deficit, which after the 2008 economic crisis rose to a staggering $1 trillion or more annually — though it has shrunk by hundreds of billions of dollars in 2012 as the economy recovered.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the Democratic Senate and the president, also a Democrat, designed sequestration in 2011 as a means of prodding themselves into crafting a plan for reducing the deficit.
The Democrats favor new taxes; the Republicans want cuts to social services. The inability of the two parties to compromise meant sequestration went from being a distant threat to an immediate danger. The original sequestration deadline was in February: Congress bumped it back to March 1, allowing more time for negotiation.
The Navy and other federal agencies have begun warning of the potentially devastating effects of the cuts on their operations.
“Sequestration and the lack of an appropriations bill will have an irreversible and debilitating impact on the Navy’s readiness through at least 2014,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, told Congress. “We will not be able to respond in the way the nation has expected and depended.”
Greenert detailed some of the specific cuts the sailing branch would have to make. The budget reductions would come in waves, the first of which would come in March and slice more than $8 billion from Navy coffers.
“We [will] have no ships in the Southern Command, so the hundreds of tons of drugs that are being intercepted, there’s nobody to do that,” Greenert explained. “And we’re not nurturing future relationships there and keeping stability down there.”
According to a Navy planning document, ship deployments to Europe would likewise be reduced or eliminated. That should allow the Navy to somewhat — though not entirely — protect near-term deployments to the Persian Gulf and the Pacific.
The assault ship USS Bataan, based in Virginia on the U.S. East Coast, will not deploy next year as originally intended.
Although the budget reduction wasn’t due to go into effect until March 1, in mid-February the Navy cancelled, at the last minute, the planned deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf. The Navy said it would suspend its two-year-old policy of always stationing two aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, instead keeping just one flattop in the volatile region (c.f.: Spencer Ackerman, “Budget Woes Mean Only One U.S. Aircraft Carrier Will Watch Iran“, Danger Room, 06.02.2013).
Submarine cruises would be cut under sequestration. The Blue Angels aerial demonstration team would be grounded. Fleet Week celebrations in major cities would be shuttered. Testing of the next-generation F-35 fighter would be delayed.
Maintenance accounts would be frozen. Twenty-two ships would skip their planned stints in various repair yards. “The condition and expected service life of our ships and aircraft will further degrade,” Greenert warned.
“We will be forced to cancel or slow procurement of relevant platforms and systems needed to preserve our warfighting superiority,” he added. Shipbuilding and other acquisition accounts would take an immediate $5-billion hit, with one new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer cancelled outright for $1.4 billion in savings. Four new F-35s would be eliminated.
If the cuts persisted over the long-term, the Navy said it would have to cut its frontline fleet from roughly 300 vessels to just 260 by 2030. “Impacts of funding we realign today cascade into future years,” Greenert said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added his own voice to Greenert’s warnings. “Sequestration will put us on a path toward a hollow force and inflict serious damage on our national security,” Panetta said.
Despite the immediate and dire effects of the automatic cuts, in mid-February Congress and the President showed no sign of reaching a budget compromise that would keep the money flowing.