The Navy plans to hire is hiring more sailors in 2016, but questions linger in the future.about future manpower levels and other issues remainin the future.
The Navy's end strength goal is expected to rise from 323,600 sailors this fiscal year to 329,200 sailors in fiscal 2016. But that number drops back by about 2,700 sailors the following year, according to the five-year plan released today in the Navy's fiscal year 2016 budget.
The jump in manpower reflects a budget that is about $12.9 billion over what is allowed under the Budget Control Act, according to budget documents. The 2016 budget request adds about $1 billion to the personnel account from last year's request.
The budget also funds the carrier George Washington's complex overhaul and refueling, as well as its air wing, which accounts for the roughly 5,600 new billets in 2016.
But questions about end strength remain because the budget calls for a drop in personnel end strength by about 2,700 sailors in fiscal 2017. A Navy official who spoke on background said the drop is billets for manning cruisers slated to go into lay-up, which the Navy refers to as phased modernization.
The cruiser phased-modernization plan, designed to keep the cruiser's air defense command capability in the fleet beyond the service life of the hull, would have put 11 of the fleet's 22 cruisers in lay-up pierside. Then, as the Navy decommissioned one of the 11 in the active fleet, it would take a newly modernized cruiser out of lay-up and put it back in the fleet, holding the number of cruisers at 11 until the Navy finds a suitable replacement for its premier surface combatant.
The new plan, if approved by Congress, would put two cruisers a year into phased modernization for no more than four years, according to the Department of the Navy's budget officer, Rear Adm. William Lescher, who briefed the media on the budget submission Monday.
The Navy is putting the cruisers Cowpens and Gettysburg into phased modernization this year, and hopes to put the Chosin and Vicksburg in next year, as well as a dock landing ship. The new plan caps the number of ships in phased modernization at six, Lescher said.
Lescher said the new budget, which adds about $700,000 million to infrastructure funding, also supports the buildout of basing in Guam, to the tune of about $128 million.
The budget also calls for about $51 million to go toward building out the new AEGIS Ashore station in Poland, which is designed to protect Europe and Israel from short- and medium-range ballistic missile attacks. The first AEGIS Ashore station in Eastern Europe opens in Romania later this year.
The big outstanding question, however, is whether Congress can reach a deal that will provide some relief from the Budget Control Act caps.
Some analysts see prospects for a deal on spending that would make the budget released today somewhat more achievable.
"There is a growing realization in Congress and in the White House, given all the mounting problems we're seeing in the world, that we can't keep going this way," said, retired Capt. Jan van Tol, a defense analyst for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "There is an increasing bipartisan realization that something has to be done to stop the decline in things like modernization."