The U.S. Navy's chief of operations said Thursday he's hoping to eliminate the unknowns of sequestration cuts on his service by 2015.
Navy budget officials are now working on a long-term spending plan for fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019 that include the mandatory spending cuts of sequestration. The move represents a significant shift since the Pentagon's defense spending plans for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 include none of the drastic spending cuts each service began absorbing this spring.
"Things will stabilize first in probably 2015," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told an audience at a July 18 National Naval Officers Association meeting. "It will be awful – 15 through 19 – the cuts will be huge, but we'll be able to say that is what it looks like … instead of doing this by year. That will help us understand what we can and can't do."
Sequestration went into effect March 1 despite months of warnings by the service chiefs that cutting $500 billion in defense spending over the next decade will slash training budgets, delay modernization, and severely hamper the U.S. military's ability to project forces around the globe.
The Pentagon has begun furloughing thousands of its civilian workers, which has hindered critical operations such as ship building efforts and depot maintenance, military officials have said.
"This has been a tough year for everybody," Greenert said.
One way the Navy has dealt with the cuts in the second half of fiscal 2013 has been to scour each budget line, searching for money that can be sacrificed, Greenert said, pointing to the DDG51 as an example.
Navy officials found money for "books, for drawings, for training equipment" – as much as 15 percent of each ship's budget – and said "pay the sequestration bill out of that and build the ship," Greenert said.
"We did that for many, many budget lines, and that is money that was put in years before because when you build a ship you execute that over several years … so we paid today's bill with money that was put in years before."
That money is gone now, so "it's going to be very, very hard not to lose a ship or two, several aircraft and stuff like that in 2014," said Greenert said, explaining that the Navy's current fleet of 286 ships "will likely dip down into the 270s over the next few years."
The services have also cut back on the number of conferences and symposiums personnel can attend to save money, but Greenert cautioned against canceling every fleet week and air show over the next few years.
Cut back on the breakfasts and lunches; the coffee and cheesecake, but don't cancel the meetings, he said.
"You have got to nurture people and mentor them and bring them together like this," Greenert said.