Naval Forces Stand Ready Despite Threat of Sequestration
WASHINGTON, April 10, 2014 – Forward presence is the Navy’s mandate, the vice chief of naval operations told a House panel today.
Naval forces remain on watch around the globe as more than a decade of conflict and extended stability operations draw to a close, Navy Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III told members of the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Our forward-deployed forces are where it matters, when it matters,” he said.
In the past year, America's naval forces have helped shape events and provided immediate options to the president during times of crisis around the globe, Ferguson said.
“Our global presence reassures our allies and partners, deters aggression and provides a ready response to humanitarian crises,” he said. “It confronts piracy and supports counterterrorism operations from the sea.”
With the signing of the Bipartisan Budget Act, the Navy was able to improve its forward operations and readiness in fiscal year 2014, the admiral said.
“Through the remainder of this fiscal year, we are restoring fleet training, maintenance and operations, and we'll recover a substantial portion of our ship maintenance backlog,” he noted.
If the Navy’s fiscal year 2015 budget request is fulfilled -- and if overseas contingency operations funds are approved -- Ferguson said, the service will have the resources necessary to train, maintain and operate its planned fleet structure.
The combined funds will also sustain the required levels of readiness to support the adjudicated Global Force Management Allocation Plan for naval forces, the admiral added.
Even if the budget request is fully funded, he said, the Navy will make some cuts in light of reduced funding from its proposed budget request last year, including a reduction of nearly 80 aircraft and 3,500 weapons.
“To remain a balanced and ready force across the Future Year's Defense Plan, this budget proposes slowing cost growth and compensation of benefits, maintaining the option to refuel or inactivate one aircraft carrier and a carrier air wing,” Ferguson said.
The proposed budget also puts 11 guided missile cruisers and three dock landing ships into a phased modernization period, the admiral told the committee.
“This phased modernization approach, while fiscally driven, will reduce force structure risk in the 2030s and beyond by extending the service life of these ships,” he noted.
The Navy strove to reset while simultaneously conducting a decade of high-tempo operations, Ferguson said. It will take about five years beyond the end of Operation Enduring Freedom to complete the reset of the force, he said.
The length of this period reflects unique ship depot maintenance demands, which are limited by operational schedules and the capacity of the Navy’s depot infrastructure, the admiral explained.
“Our budget request also proposes lower investment in our shore infrastructure,” he said.
“We are mindful that this backlog will compound over time and must eventually be addressed. Accordingly, we will continue to aggressively pursue opportunities, such as reprogramming our realignment of funds in the year of execution to modernize and sustain our shore facilities,” Ferguson said.
As the Navy looks to the future, the specter of sequestration looms large, he said.
A return to sequestration-level spending in fiscal year 2016 and beyond will lead to a Navy that would be insufficient in size and capability to meet the needs of the country, the admiral said.
“Under that scenario, additional force structure reductions would be required to fund adequate readiness of the remaining force. Under sequestration, further reductions in procurement, in maintenance training and operations would be required and damage to the industrial base would likely be severe,” he said.
Despite these challenges, the nation is fortunate to have the highest quality force in its history, Ferguson said.
“These outstanding men and women who serve our nation at sea make us the finest Navy in the world,” he said.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @rouloafps)