Fox: Pentagon will plan for possible carrier cut in 2015

The Pentagon will take steps next year to retire an aircraft carrier in case Congress does not lift sequestration by 2016, a top defense official said on Wednesday. 

“If we get some assurances that the budget is going up versus down, we’ll keep the carrier. If however we go back to sequester, we really have no choice,” acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox said at the American Enterprise Institute. 

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“In 2015, we’ll kind of hold. We won’t take the people out. We won’t take the air wing out,” she said. “We’ll put the ship in the yards and start the actions you’re going to take whether you’re going to refuel it and put it back in service or take it out of service. So we have time.”

Fox’s remarks serve as a warning to Congress, which enacted sequestration cuts of more than $50 billion to the defense budget through 2021. 

The Pentagon recently released a preview of its defense budget request for 2015, which includes cuts to the size of the Army and Marine Corps, laying up 11 Navy cruisers, cutting Air Force A-10 and U-2 fleets, and reducing military benefits. Defense leaders say those reductions will get worse if sequestration is not relieved for 2016.

The Bipartisan Budget Act relieved $9 billion of those cuts for 2015, and the White House has proposed a $26 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Fund that would further relieve cuts for 2015. However, sequestration would hit the department in full again in 2016.

The defense budget request is already $115 billion above sequestration levels over the next five years, Fox said, so if lawmakers don’t like certain cuts, worse decisions would have to be made. 

“If they force — as they have every year — us to keep things that we don’t want to keep, something else happens, and we are at the point, even with the $115 additional, there are few places it can come out.”