If the Navy doesn't get the money it needs this year, the results could be dire, the service's brass warned lawmakers in late February hearings.
officials warned catastrophic. That was the message sent to lawmakers by Navy officials in separate hearings held Feb. 25 and 26.
The need to build a 300-ship Navy by decade's end was the top goalneed stressed by officials testifying on Feb. 25 before the House Armed Service Committee's Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. The fleet cannot maintain the wear and tear seen in recent years, and the demand for naval and Marine Corps forces will only increase.
"We need these ships. Their demand overseas is not going to go down," said Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. He explained that 10 years ago the Navy had slightly more than 300 ships but only about 70 deployed. Today, 100 out of 280 ships are deployed, and it's "only going to increase when you look on the 2020 timeframe. We're not looking at the hundred ships being deployed. We're looking at 115 ships deployed and the greatest challenge, the greatest threat we have to that today is the threat of sequestration."
In a best-case scenario, the Navy will be able to have three carrier strike groups ready to deploy within 30 days in 2018, and the three amphibious ready groups by 2020, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who said , chief of naval operations. In Feb. 26 testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Greenert said the blue-green team has been able to supply only one-third of that force, on average, due to budget cuts and sequestration.
The proposed fiscal 2016 budget includes the "bare minimum to execute the Defense Strategic Guidance in the world we face," Stackley said. Still, lawmakers are preparing to cut roughly $13 billion from the Navy's $161 billion budget. That's because The president's budget essentially ignores a second round of sequestration cuts, which are only avoidable if DoD lowers spending below the congressionally mandated cap, or congress lifts that cap., which is set for fiscal 2016. Congressional leaders said they are equally eager to avoid sequestration, but are unwilling to pass a budget that will require Pentagon leaders to make $34 billion in cuts if a solution is not found.
"It bears repeating, barring some dramatic change in course, the committee will mark up the fiscal year '16 bill that is in compliance with the [Budget Control Act]," Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., told Navy leaders the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing. "With respect, I will advise you that we will cut the $13 billion with you or we will cut it without you, but we need to do the job the law requires us to do."
Stackley said another round of sequestration would require "a revisit and revision of the defense strategy." Funding in the past three years have come up $25 billion short of what was needed to meet the defense strategic guidance, and the department remains "challenged" by maintenance backlogs, compressed training for modernization, and extended deployments as a result, he said.
Another round of sequestration would "fundamentally change our Navy and Marine Corps in the industrial base we rely upon." The Marine Corps would be hardest hit, Stackley said. Modernization and acquisitions would be delayed, aged legacy systems would remain in use at significant cost to budgets and readiness, and these will lead to "morale issues and quality of life degradation."
'Working our ships hard'
The Navy's fiscal 2016 budget requests funding for nine ships: two Virginia-class attack submarines, two DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, three littoral combat ships, the first next generation logistics fleet resupply ship T- AO(X), and the remaining funding for the 12th amphibious transport dock ships Congress added in last year's budget.
The submission supports plans for the eventual procurement of 48 ships. The fleet under construction is about 65 ships strong.
The budget request also answers some key questions. Namely, it includes funding for the aircraft carrier George Washington`s refueling and complex overhaul, and funding for that will enable the replacement of the E-2C airborne early warning aircraft with the E-2D and the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft with the P-8A Poseidon.
Stackley called cruiser modernization a "key component" of the budget, though some lawmakers are not sold on the lay-up plan. The Navy will induct no more than two ships per year for no more than four years, and have no more than six ships in a modernization period at any given time. The first two ships, Gettysburg and Cowpens, will enter modernization this year. Vicksburg and Chosin will follow next year; it remains unclear how many crewmembers will remain assigned to these hulls during this period.
The budget would also cover the final Whidbey Island-class midlife modernization, service life extensions of Whidbey Island and Germantown dock landing ships, and modernization of four destroyers.
The proposed budget would build the first three low-rate initial production MQ-4C Tritons (formerly known as Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) next year. The platform is scheduled to cover five global, persistent maritime Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance orbits beginning in fiscal 2018. Test vehicles have completed 21 flights as of Feb. 3, and are slated to begin sensor integration testing later this spring. The budget also includes $52.8 million to continue development of the MQ-8C Fire Scout and $134.7 million for development of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS system.
The Navy is also giving strong consideringation to an earlier introduction of the Virginia Payload Module, Stackley said. The program would add 28 missile tubes per attack boat to offset submarine to mitigate the 600 missile tubes lost when the four guided missile subs retire between 2026 through 2028. The Navy is geared to include this in the first boat of the next multiyear set, which is in 2019.
Stackley said the Navy's proposed budget not only addresses current and future military threats, and that sequestration poses hazards., but provides the information and armor lawmakers need to defeat the financial threat posed by sequestration and the Budget Control Act.
"We're working our ships hard," he said in his closing remarks. "Their deployment ratios, their dwell time, the length of their deployments has been a lot of wear and tear to the force and you're starting to see that stack up in the depots. So the ship count is critical because the demand for presence is not going to go down. … So let us know how we can help you in your battles here in the halls of Congress to try to reverse what poses a great threat to our Navy and Marine Corps team."