The frigate USS Thach (FFG 43), seen deploying from San Diego on Jan. 8, could be called home to pay for sequester budget cuts. (Christopher P. Cavas / Defense News)
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With no budget deal by deadline, the Navy announced some drastic actions Saturday in the face of sequestration.
Four air wings are set to be grounded and eight ship deployments are slated to be cancelled — including two already underway. The moves will help save the service $10 billion, the amount cut this year due to automatic spending cuts triggered by Congress.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said these drastic actions will still preserve the Navy's presence overseas.
"The lack of a legislative solution to avoid sequestration is deeply regrettable," Mabus said in the message. "That said, we must endeavor to deal with the situation as we face it, not as we wish it could otherwise be."
The cuts, detailed in Mabus' message, will start to be felt almost immediately in aviation. Officials are preparing to ground at least four air wings, starting in April — a move that will drastically reduce the Navy's aviation readiness, with four of the nine air wings grounded and two more operating at minimum safe flying levels. Top Navy officials have warned that it will take the better part of the year — and up to three times the cost — to return these air wings to full readiness.
The four air wings to be grounded are Carrier Air Wing 2, with the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group; Carrier Air Wing 9, with Stennis CSG; Carrier Air Wing 17, with Vinson CSG; and Carrier Air Wing 7, with Eisenhower CSG.
In addition, the two air wings dropping to a "tactical hard deck" are Carrier Air Wing 1, with the Theodore Roosevelt CSG; and Carrier Air Wing 11, with Nimitz CSG. Basic flight training for pilot and flight officer trainees will halt in March.
The Navy has already cancelled one CSG deployment — that for the Truman CSG, announced two days before it was to deploy in early February — and warned that many more would come if budget cuts hit. Mabus disclosed those ships Saturday.
Eight ships are set to have had their upcoming deployments cancelled for budget reasons — including two already underway:
• The hospital ship Comfort will not conduct its "Continuing Promise 2013" humanitarian mission to Central and South America.
• The rescue and salvage ship Grasp will not deploy to U.S. European command on April 1.
• The frigate Kauffman will not deploy to U.S. Southern Command, which had been scheduled for April 5.
• The destroyer Preble will not deploy to U.S. Pacific Command, previously set for April 8.
• The destroyer Momsen will not depart for U.S. Pacific Command, originally set for April 10.
• The frigate Rentz will not deploy to U.S. Southern Command, which had been slated for April 19.
• The destroyer Shoup will not deploy along with aircraft carrier Nimitz to 5th Fleet, as had been planned, and will return home from its current cruise instead.
• In addition, the frigate Thach was ordered home from what was supposed to be a six-month deployment after only two months patrolling Central American waters for drug-runners.
Fleet officials are delaying the final cancellation order for each deployment as long as possible in the hopes that the Navy will get more funding in time to deploy them. In the meantime, these crews are still preparing to deploy, a Navy spokesman clarified Wednesday.
"All such decisions will be made in an operationally-timely manner, and are designed to be reversible where possible," said Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello. "Until those decisions are made the crews will continue with deployment preparations."
Mabus said these actions were not being taken lightly and regretted the uncertainties that the budget battles have had on the force.
"We will continue to keep the safety and well-being of our people foremost in mind, even as we try hard to keep whole the force structure which supports them," Mabus said in the message.