Fleet Readiness To Plunge In ’14

Even full funding won’t restore sequestration effects, admirals warn

(NAVY TIMES 06 MAY 13) … Sam Fellman

The fleet’s readiness will drop significantly next year, even if the Navy gets the $156 billion budget it requested, admirals warned lawmakers April 26.

Ships and squadrons, particularly those with upcoming cruises, will feel the squeeze from the six months of sequestration-triggered cuts this year that affect ship steaming days, aircraft flying hours and repair work. As much as two thirds of the fleet will be short of full mission readiness, a status that normally only affects half of the fleet, testified Vice Adm. Bill Burke, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems.

“We are taking some risk in the readiness of our non-deployed forces to maintain very high levels of readiness in our deployed forces,” Burke told the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel in written testimony.

Crews deploying soon are getting the work-ups they need, but those leaving later will see a slowdown, reducing the bench of surge-ready ships.

“Operationally, everything we’re sending forward is fully ready,” Burke said. “But we are not able to keep everybody at the same level they’ve been. So the next guys to get ready to go, we’re working them. But the ones that are not next are not doing very much.” The service has restored funding for all but eight of the ship overhauls originally slated for cancellation; finding money for the remainder is a top priority, Burke said, noting those are needed to keep the ships up after years of straining operational tempo.

More money is needed for next year’s repairs, too. The Navy blocked off $5.2 billion for ship repairs, leaving 20 percent of overhauls unfunded. In written testimony, Burke made clear that $1.3 billion more will be required for surface ship overhauls in fiscal 2014, money the Navy plans to get via war funds.

But asking for money and actually getting it are two different things. As it is, the Pentagon’s budget request exceeds the spending cap. Unless lawmakers remove those caps, another round of billions in automatic spending cuts will be triggered, again shortchanging the fleet.

If sequestration occurs next year, Burke said, the Navy could again be forced to start canceling cruises one by one, an extremely disruptive process.

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