Navy’s Chief Of Operations: Mayport, NAS Are Big Parts Of Future Plans

(FLORIDA TIMES-UNION 04 MAY 13) … William Browning

The First Coast is one of the most popular locations for Sailors and on a visit to the region Friday the top admiral said the Navy “will be here for the long haul.”

“We really want to modernize and make this the large Navy region that it deserves to be,” said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of Naval Operations.

Greenert, the Navy’s senior military officer, met with Sailors at Mayport Naval Station and Jacksonville Naval Air Station on Friday for “all hands” calls. At NAS he also spoke at a luncheon held by the Navy League Council at the Officers Club.

His message was optimistic.

Greenert said because of budget uncertainties this year caused by sequestration and continuing resolution, the Navy had to cancel some deployments and scrap some of the scheduled maintenances of ships as it tried to make up an $8 billion shortfall out of a $48 billion operating budget.

But with a budget passed last month that dropped that shortfall to roughly $4 billion, “many of the plans that you saw last year, most of them are on track,” Greenert said.

One of the biggest: the scheduled arrival of the first of what will eventually be 11 littoral combat ships at Mayport by 2019. The Navy has said it planned on the first showing up in three years.

“I think we’ll still make that,” Greenert said. “The continuing resolution had us where we just couldn’t award contracts to continue construction. That slowed us down a little bit but I think you’ll see the first LCS in 2016.”

The littoral combat ships are designed to travel fast and operate in shallow, near-coastline waters. They are essentially replacing the Navy’s frigates, which are slowly being retired from the fleet.

Greenert also said he expects the first ship of the three-ship amphibious ready group, or ARG, to arrive on schedule this year. There was suspicion this year that the ARG’s move from Norfolk, Va., to Mayport could be put off indefinitely because of budget problems.

But Greenert said he still expects the USS New York, an amphibious transport dock, to begin calling Mayport home this year and the USS Fort McHenry, a dock landing ship, and the USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, to both follow suit by 2015.

Bringing the ARG to Mayport provides the Navy a strategic dispersal for that type of ship. When it comes to strategic dispersal, Greenert said, the Navy would like to do that with all of its ships — including carriers on the east coast.

“It’s important,” he said. “It’s something we’d prefer … on the other hand, it’s an affordability issue.”

Until the money is there to homeport a carrier in Florida, Greenert said, the Navy will continue working to make sure that a carrier can “pull in and service” at Mayport.

The Navy has 283 ships today. By 2019, it will have 300, the admiral said, adding that the First Coast will see “a good bit of those ships.”

Greenert also said the P-8s, the jets replacing the aging P-3s at NAS, are on schedule. The Navy has said is plans on having 42 P-8As at NAS by 2019.

U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said with the Navy’s newest ships and planes scheduled to be based at Mayport and NAS, the region is “very much a part of the future of the Navy.”

Greenert was asked about President Barack Obama’s defense budget for 2014 including a proposed round of base closures and realignments by 2015.

He said while he supports the idea of measuring the Navy’s efficiency, “when I look I around I don’t see any dramatic need or any area that requires closure.”

Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Republican, also responded to the question, saying that he did not believe there was “much of an appetite in Congress” to close military bases.

“I think my colleagues that I talk to from time to time don’t think it is a big priority,” he said.

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