“MODEST CHANGES”: Obama Directing Navy to Cut Even as Readiness Woes Continue

Jul 18, 2011
Defense Drumbeat
“It’s so big [the defense budget] that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of headroom to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.”    -President Obama, July 6, 2011


Washington, DC – In pursuit of its $400 billion cut to national security, the Obama Administration is now preparing to ask the United States Navy to do more with less at a time when the number of unready ships is expected to rise. Top Navy officials are cautioning about the impact of further cuts.

$10 BILLION MORE OUT OF NAVY: According to John Bennett writing in The Hill, the Navy could be forced to slash its annual budget by $10 billion as the Pentagon pares its spending:

“White House officials have ordered the Pentagon to begin slashing its budget starting in 2012 to meet President Obama’s goal of $400 billion in national security cuts…[M]ultiple industry sources with ties to the Navy said the service has been told to expect a $10 billion funding cut for 2013. And service officials are seriously mulling options that would alter shipbuilding plans and naval operations for years…”

Such cuts at this time are ill-conceived and dangerous. In testimony before the HASC Readiness Subcommittee earlier this month, Vice Admirals William Burke and Kevin McCoy acknowledged that the current defense budget is not providing what the Navy needs. “I’m not happy,” Admiral Burke said of the budgetary decision on ship maintenance. “The decision that was made was based on other priorities, and ship maintenance came up short.”

“MODEST CHANGES”:  The Navy’s readiness woes are simply the latest example, across the military services, of critical shortfalls that would be exacerbated if the President pursues his plan to make “relatively modest changes” to create “headroom” for his domestic agenda. He previewed just such a strategy last week during his Twitter town hall: “It’s so big [the defense budget] that you can make relatively modest changes to defense that end up giving you a lot of headroom to fund things like basic research or student loans or things like that.”

NAVY READINESS IS TAKING ON WATER: The combination of high demand and insufficient maintenance funding has deteriorated the Navy’s readiness to a worrying extent. As Spencer Ackerman writes for Wired:

“More than a fifth of the Navy isn’t ready to sail or fight, at a time when demand on the fleet is off the charts. And the number of unready ships is likely to rise as Navy officers try to fix their chronic readiness woes…

“The Navy’s surface fleet goes into the water banged up. Its aircraft carriers, frigates, destroyers spend nearly 40 percent of their deployment time with ‘at least one major equipment or systems failure…. That can include ‘anti-air defenses, radar, satellite communications, or engines.’ Let’s not forget that even the new ships are disintegrating.”

NAVY ALREADY DOING MORE WITH LESSThe demands on our Navy are enormous, and the fleet is suffering as a result of insufficient maintenance resources.  Within the last year Navy ships and aircraft:

  • performed support missions in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • aided disaster relief in Pakistan and Japan
  • battled Somali pirates
  • spearheaded hostilities in Libya.

All the while, the Navy is expected to guarantee freedom of the seas, which is critical to our security, trade, and economic prosperity.

WE’VE SAILED THESE SEAS BEFORE: Philip Ewing of DOD Buzz warns that the Navy is in danger of repeating the short-sighted planning decisions of the 1990s. Ewing, who documented systemic, service-wide problems with preventive maintenance during the last decade, now writes that the readiness of the surface Navy has been substantially reduced:

“[In the past] The Navy fielded smaller crews, making fewer hands available for regular maintenance; it cut human-led, hands-on instruction, preferring to teach sailors their jobs using ‘computer-based instruction,’ which meant they weren’t qualified to do their jobs at sea. And simple budget cuts meant ships didn’t get the regular maintenance or spare parts they needed. On top of all this, Navy commanders blamed an increase in operational tempo, which meant more demands on their smaller, poorly maintained fleet, which meant less time and money to do the full-scale repairs ships need to keep them in service for their design lives…According to Tuesday’s [HASC Readiness] hearing, all those problems are more or less still in effect.

Ewing pointed to testimony at Tuesday’s hearing, suggesting that now may not be the time to be cutting into the Navy’s resources:

“McCoy and Burke repeated that the Navy is ‘stretched’ by the number of forces it must provide to combatant commanders…[C]ombatant commanders want between 16 and 18 nuclear attack submarines at any one time, but the Navy only has enough to deploy 10. He [Burke] and McCoy said the Navy wasn’t forcing commanders to miss missions, but that the rate of operations today was affecting the surface fleet’s ability to do maintenance and could hurt the service lives of its ships. Overall, the admirals warned, today’s operational tempo is 'unsustainable.’


112th Congress