Navy chief: Under defense cuts, sailors could arrive 'late to the fight'

Navy chief: Under defense cuts, sailors could arrive 'late to the fight'
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The Navy's top officer said Tuesday that a reduced defense budget would put sailors' and Marines' ability to deter aggression at risk.  

"The first mission at risk is to deter and defeat aggression, which really means to win a war at sea, while deterring another at sea in a different theater," Adm. Jonathan Greenert testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. 

Greenert added that it also meant that some ships, sailors and weapons systems "will arrive late to the fight." 

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"They will arrive with insufficient ordnance, and they'll be without modern combat system sensors and networks that are required. And they will be inadequately prepared to fight," he added.   

"It will absolutely put young lives at risk," added Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. 

The Pentagon is facing $1 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years, imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act and known as sequestration. The cuts began in 2013, and immediately reduced troop training, deployments and maintenance. 

The cuts were partially relieved in 2014 and 2015, but are scheduled to return in full in October. Under sequestration, the defense budget will remain at $500 billion in 2016, but the White House has requested a base budget of $535 billion and an additional $51 billion in war funding. 

While most lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee support overturning sequestration, some fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party oppose lifting the caps since to do so would increase government spending. 

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainDonald Trump is delivering on his promises and voters are noticing The Memo: Trump’s media game puts press on back foot Meghan McCain shreds Giuliani for calling Biden a 'mentally deficient idiot' MORE (R-Ariz.), the committee's chairman, wrote an op-ed with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) on Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal to urge Republican fiscal hawks to reverse sequestration. 

McCain at the hearing argued that "more than ever, a strong Navy and Marine Corps are central to our nation's ability to deter adversaries, assure allies, and defend our national interests." 

"From our strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, to conducting ongoing operations against [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria], to deterring rogue actors like Iran or North Korea, to many other requirements, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are key pillars of our national security strategy," he said. 

McCain said that under sequestration today's fleet of 275 ships would drop to 260 ships, while combatant commanders say they need 450 ships. 

The Marine Corps would have to drop from 202,000 active duty Marines in 2012 to 182,000 in 2017, McCain added.  

The reductions in troops and ships have made deployments longer for sailors and Marines, cutting "time at home with families and putting our all-volunteer force under considerable strain," he added. 

Due to the shortfalls in maintenance and training, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who also testified, added that "ships are going out for longer, staying for longer." 

Dunford noted that Marines are deploying for seven months, and are at home for less than 14 months, or roughly a year. 

"That continues almost ad infinitum," he added. 

The committee's top Democrat, Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedReed: ‘Preposterous’ for Trump to say North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat Senate Dem: Using young children as a ‘political foil’ is ‘abhorrent’ Sunday Shows preview: Lawmakers, Trump allies discuss Russia probe, migrant family separation MORE (R.I.), joined McCain's calls for Congress to overturn sequestration. 

"If Congress does not act to end sequestration, I believe our long-term national security interests will be threatened," Reed said in his opening remarks. 

"All areas of our naval forces are overtaxed," Reed said, noting shortfalls in aircraft carriers, attack submarines, air and missile defense cruisers, destroyers and strike fighter inventories. "I am interested in hearing how the Navy is managing its operational tempo with these shortfalls," Reed said.

"I am interested to learn how the Marine Corps will manage mission risk with a force this size, particularly with the addition of missions such as increased embassy security," he added.

"Ultimately, this means more ships and aircraft out of action in battle, more sailors, Marines and merchant mariners killed, and less credibility, frankly, to deter adversaries and to assure allies in the future," Greenert said.