Navy combat readiness in freefall

National Defense Magazine:
A perfect storm of shrinking budgets, inefficiency and wasteful spending threatens the Navy’s ability to deploy combat ships, a senior official warns. Of particular concern is the Navy’s fleet of 187 surface combatants, which are becoming increasingly expensive to operate and maintain.

“It’s really problematic,” said Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of naval surface forces. The fleet, he said, is woefully short of spare parts and trained crews and, as a result, the Navy’s combat readiness is in freefall.

In a keynote speech Jan. 15 at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Va., Copeman painted a picture of a Navy that somehow manages to meet growing demands for ship deployments but is gradually hollowing itself out.

“We are doing the job … but we are stretched,” Copeman said.

The surface combatant fleet, which makes up 73 of the Navy’s commissioned ships, gets just 26 percent of the Navy’s depot maintenance dollars, he said. Even with a budget of nearly $50 billion for operations and maintenance, the Navy’s surface fleet for years has gutted its inventories of spare parts and saw many of its most skilled crews leave the service in a wave of pre-9/11 downsizing.

And funding will only become tighter. The Navy’s overall budget already is being reduced by $60 billion over the next five years, and there could be more cuts coming if the March 1 sequester — which would trim all military accounts by 9 percent — goes into effect.
This should raise some serious questions for Chuck Hagel when he comes before Congress at the end of January.   It should likewise raise questions about Obama's truthfulness in his debate performance with Mitt Romney when the question was raised about the ability of the fleet to operate.  Obama gave one of his snarky sarcastic responses and ignored the serious issues Romney was critical of.


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