Navy secretary affirms commitment to cutting costs

The Navy will strive to carry out its missions as cheaply as possible as the Pentagon tightens its belt, a top official said Wednesday. 

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Wednesday said “how cheaply” crucial missions can be carried out will be a big factor in determining what hardware programs survive future budget drills and which ones are terminated.

He pointed to the recent cancellation of the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) as a model for future cost-cutting decisions.

He said the EFV’s intended function of moving Marines from sea to shore is still important, but that the vehicle’s $14 billion price tag made it “way too exotic” and spurred its cancellation.

Navy and Marine Corps officials are looking to trim costs as annual Pentagon budgets shrink.

President Obama earlier this month called for $400 billion in additional Pentagon budget reductions through 2023 as Washington looks to right its fiscal ship. He also ordered the Defense Department to lead a “comprehensive review” of national security missions and America’s global role.

As the naval services assist with meeting that savings target, Mabus said they will think about what kinds of personnel and equipment will be needed to conduct whatever mix of missions the review deems necessary.

The Navy secretary said at a breakfast with reporters he has not recommended missions that his service or the Marines could shed to find savings. But he said he has highlighted for Pentagon brass some “platforms and people” that could be trimmed. 

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates last year led an effort that found more than $100 billion in internal Pentagon budget savings. Those funds were mostly redirected to hardware programs, with some being used for deficit-reduction efforts.

The Navy sees “more efficiencies” that can help cut defense spending, Mabus told reporters during the event, which was sponsored by the Center for Media and Security.

He noted the Navy already has slashed its expected shipbuilding budget by $40 billion. The service did so by terminating next-generation ships such as a new cruiser that were going to be far too pricey, and by working with industry to drop the price of ships it already is buying large numbers of.

Those moves mean the Navy is “getting more ships” (325) by the early 2020s for $40 billion less than under its old shipbuilding plans (around 300).

Keeping its ship accounts reasonably priced is important because “we have to be realistic about cost and how much the Congress is going to approve,” Mabus said.

As naval officials work with shipbuilders on constraining costs, he said service officials owe companies several things: stable designs with no major changes during the production phase; a resistance toward insisting still-developing technologies are on every model in a new class of vessels; and clarity on its desired fleet size, which will allow firms to plan accordingly. 

In turn, defense firms owe naval officials a few things, he said, including shrinking costs as production lines mature and adequate investments in their workforce and infrastructure.