More than 6,300 sailor job cuts set for 2017 won’t harm the manpower additions made in recent years to ships, squadrons and submarines, be felt on the deck plates and the reversal from end strength growth in recent years wouldn’t impact improved manning in the fleet, the Navy’s top officer has said Friday.
Disbanding an air wing and speeding up sailors’ training pipeline accounts for most of the proposed cuts, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told reporters Friday.
"Really the adjustments — and it’s just a small adjustment I think — come from standing down the tenth air wing," Richardson said, referring to the Carrier Wing 14,th Carrier Air Wing based in Lemoore, California, which is on the chopping block.
"And then learning technology, updating how we educate people, is going to be more efficient and we'll recover some student billets. Those folks will spend less time in school and get out their units faster. From an impact standpoint, really no impact. Just kind of happening by the virtue of some of the other things we are doing."
In addition, the Navy plans to boost other ship crews by steeply downsizing cruiser crews, dispatching the sailors to other billets while these warships head into what's likely to be a years-long limbo.
The Navy has been hacking away at manning gaps at sea since they spiked above 17,000 about four years ago. Since then, the Navy has been recruiting more sailors and offering incentives for sea duty, which has driven the number down to below 3,000.
The progress won't be rolled back by the cuts planned for 2017.
"With respect to the progress on manning, none of that will be affected," Richardson said. "Our ships are manned at the highest levels, about 98 percent is where we are right now. … But more important we are getting the right skill sets and experience on board, so our fit numbers are in the 90s as well."
Richardson's comments echoed those of the Navy's uniformed budget chief, who said the service was committed to keeping up the manning levels at sea.
"At the deckplate level, we have a strong commitment to sustaining the same good manning we have now," said Rear Adm. William Lescher, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said at a Feb. 9 budget briefing.
The Navy is planning on using simulation and gaming technology, among other things, to speed the process of getting sailors to the fleet and freeing up some of the billets dedicated to sailors both in the training pipeline and awaiting training, Lescher said.
"It's not the old computer-based training, it's not clicking through a PowerPoint, its new content," he said. "It's a way to accelerate getting our sailors to the chief, to getting them to the fleet and to the chief properly trained. And through that … pilot program … we'll continue to incrementally learn, [and] reduce the end strength in this individuals account."
The Navy is also planning to save billets by sidelining half of its cruisers – the so-call phased modernization program. The plan would park 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 return a newly modernized cruiser to the fleet to hold the cruiser fleet at 11 ships until the service finds a suitable replacement for the top-of-the-line surface combatants.
Last year, Navy officials expected laying up the cruisers would save about 2,700 billets, which the Navy was not planning to fund in 2017 anyway.