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Mabus: 'Hollow' force coming if sequestration goes unchecked

Sep. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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The Navy’s top civilian warned Wednesday that another year of sequestration cuts will put the fleet and Marine Corps within a year of going “hollow” — with commands sent downrange without the manpower and equipment for missions they’ll be tasked to conduct.

“In another 12 to 18 months, we will have sailors and Marines deploy without all the training they need,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a Wednesday speech before students and faculty at the National Defense University in Washington. “Through no fault of their own, they will be less ready to face whatever comes over the horizon.”

“We are rapidly reaching the point where no amount of hard work or innovation or anything else will allow us to get this training back,” Mabus said, casting the service’s possible $14 billion shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year in the starkest possible terms.

Mabus also said that the scale and indiscriminate nature of the sequester cuts could slow the Navy’s response in a crisis, such as that unfolding after Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons. A force of destroyers, amphibious ships and two carrier strike groups were in the region, ready to respond immediately.

Because of the sequester cuts, a similar response “may be limited or unavailable in the future,” Mabus said, noting that it will also reduce steaming days, flying hours and other vital training that the fleet depends on to prepare for deployment.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert also spoke about the impacts last week with many new specifics on their possible impacts. But Greenert stopped short of casting them in as harsh a light, instead saying that his priority is “that those ships we put forward are ready to go, no matter what the number in the Navy are.”

These cuts could force the Navy to cancel 34 ship availabilities, scrap 25 airplanes, and halt construction for four ships in the upcoming fiscal year, which starts in three weeks.

Mabus said the nation needs to find a better way to reduce defense spending that the sequestration cuts, which would drop the Pentagon’s spending by nearly a half a trillion over the next decade through across-the-board cuts if the budget exceeds spending caps, a process Mabus called “inflexible” and leads to “mindless decisions.”

“If Congress fails to act to correct course, there is the potential to seriously diminish and permanently hard America’s indispensable maritime forces,” Mabus said.

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