Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, briefs the media on Asia security issues at the Pentagon in December. (Glenn Fawcett / Defense Department)
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Mandatory defense cuts are making it impossible for the Navy's 285-ship fleet to protect U.S. interests around the globe, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, the head of U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday.
With the additional $46 billion in mandatory budget cuts that went into effect Friday, the U.S. military in the Pacific is facing further drops in readiness, through cuts in training, exercises, flying hours and maintenance, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear told members of the Senate Armed Services committee.
"When you look at the world as a global community, and you as a world leader ... you want to be able to influence what goes on in the global community for the benefit of the American people," Locklear said. "My requirements are not being satisfied by the Navy today."
The Navy canceled fleet deployments in response to budget cuts, and the reduction in flying hours will leave carriers without pilots and aircraft ready to deploy with them, Locklear said.
The budget uncertainty is coming as the U.S. military shifts its focus toward the Pacific. Keeping assets ready and participating in training with partner nations there is more important than ever before, Locklear said.
"The U.S. joint force has been heavily tasked in the [Middle East], and the USPACOM [area of responsibility] in many key areas has been resource challenged," he said. "The rebalance to the Pacific has given us a new opportunity."
Even with the mandatory cuts, U.S. forces in the Pacific are continuing to make personnel moves. Another 250 Marines are set to deploy to Australia this year, with plans to raise that number to 1,000 next year, Locklear said.
U.S. Forces Japan is continuing work with the Japanese government to maintain a U.S. presence on Okinawa, including the deployment of Marine Corps CV-22 Ospreys. The U.S. Army First Corps also has been realigned under Pacific Command, and is planning for additional activities in the Pacific, he said.