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CNO: If ships get the ax, manning cuts will follow

Aug. 28, 2013 - 09:18PM   |  
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert discusses potential force cuts in an interview posted to the Navy's website Aug. 20.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert discusses potential force cuts in an interview posted to the Navy's website Aug. 20. (Navy)
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The Navy has the right number of sailors, but Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert warns that deep cuts to ships, subs, squadrons and staffs could force his hand and trigger manning cuts, as well.

“We won’t reduce manpower unless we’re reducing ships and aircraft,” Greenert said Aug. 20 in an interview posted on the Navy’s official website. “We don’t have that flexibility. And frankly, we are just getting the number of people we need in the Navy to man the Navy right for the number of ships and aircraft that we have. There’s no more efficiencies in that regard.”

Reducing ships is certainly on the table, and one possibility is axing three aircraft carriers, a worst-case scenario recently broached by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which would force the Navy to jettison thousands of sailors, a recourse that has some sailors nervous.

“What I’ll tell you is, it’s a scenario. It’s not the scenario,” Greenert said in the interview filmed in Hawaii. “But it’s a reflection of the fact that everything is on the table.”

The Marine Corps and Army are facing the possibility of even deeper troop drawdowns after their growth during the ground wars, a time during which the Navy ranks shrank before stabilizing a few years ago. Sailors have been largely spared in the past year’s budget wars — but that could be upended by tens of billions from sequester cuts; their sheer scale may compel admirals to sacrifice some capital ships.

The service chiefs, including Greenert, warned that sequester cuts would make their services less ready, and still those cuts took effect, albeit in reduced form. The Navy, for example, saw a $4 billion shortfall to operations and maintenance this year but dodged a deeper cut.

The Pentagon will undergo a second year of heavy cuts unless lawmakers intervene. Greenert made clear in August that his focus remains on ensuring that all Navy forces are well-equipped and ready to deploy. Among his priorities for the next five years:

■Station one carrier strike group in both 5th and 7th Fleets year round. Greenert said sequestration will drop the Navy’s capacity to “surge” ships forward from three CSGs and three amphibious ready groups to one of each.

■Continue shifting ships to the Pacific, where 60 percent of the fleet will be based by 2020.

■Forward-base more ships, including one more attack submarine in Guam; four destroyers in Rota, Spain; and patrol coastal ship and mine countermeasures ship crews in Bahrain.

■Add another ARG to the Pacific to support Darwin, Australia-based Marines.

The fleet remains at a high level of operations, with some deployments stretching out to nine months. Officials caution that this isn’t likely to change soon, due to budget cuts and continued crises in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific.

“Deployment lengths will stay about where they are now, somewhere around 7½ to eight months” over the next nine months, Greenert said.

In a year, carriers will shift into the new carrier deployment plan. Under this plan, the strike group will deploy twice for every training cycle but follow a more set schedule.

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