Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told a crowd of surface naval officers and defense industry executives at the Surface Navy Association's annual conference that the Navy faces further crises beyond sequestration, the shrinking budget and the war in Afghanistan.
“There is going to be uncertainty,” he told the gathering. “We’re going to sail to crises because that’s what we’ve done since we were founded. And if you look at the dynamics around the world there are lots of crises – business is going to be good.”
The reason for that is because 30 to 35 percent of the Navy and the Marine Corps are already forward deployed into or near areas of conflict or potential conflict, according to Gortney. And in a crisis situation they can establish a strong presence and provide a range of options to the U.S. –- “to help settle a crisis or go to the next level” and employ combat assets.
“We’re the enabler. We can open the battle space we can hold the battle space,” he said, “and that’s why this next decade is really going to be critical for us.”
Challenges facing the U.S. including ongoing tumult in the Middle East and the rise of China as a global power. The Navy is also poised to make a so-called “pivot” to Asia – beefing up the American presence and power in the region.
“There is a need to recognize there are challenges out there in the Pacific,” he said. “You just have to look at the dynamics of the Pacific, and the nations that all share the same waters” to see that.
Gortney also made it clear that the Navy and Marine Corps would be conducting operations and missions over the next decade without the pile of money that has been routinely thrown their way over the past decade.
For the Navy, as for all the services, the decade since 9/11 has been one of bumper crop budgets year after year, as money poured in for people, gear and weapons systems as the country fought high-profile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and low-profile conflicts or operations elsewhere.
But the days of growing budgets are over.
“The hardest part of the next decade is confronting such a change from the last decade,” he said. “For the last 10 years the Department of Defense has been flush with cash … We had plenty of money.”
As always happens after a war, however, the military budgets will go down. A roughly 10 percent cut, the result of budget control legislation, means about $487 billion less for the Pentagon over the next 10 years. But that’s probably not the last cut the military will see.
There will be more significant reductions, according to Gortney, it remains to be seen how they will be done.
“They could be in another Budget Control Act, could come as sequestration or come as little ‘ankle bites’ every single year,” he said. He called “ankle bites” the worst scenario because it eliminates funding predictability; that makes it harder for the Navy and industry manufacturers to make plans and act over the long term.
With that in mind, he said, the navy already has to start challenging the fiscal assumptions it has been basing decisions on for the past 10 years.
“Because what happens if your assumptions fall short? Your plan falls apart,” he said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Ray Mabus on Jan. 11 signaled the new fiscal reality when he issued a memo directing commanders to adopt a series of “belt-tightening” measures aimed at getting through what could be another period of operating under continuing resolution funding rather than an actual annual budget.
Among the measures: Delay decommissionings; cut back on travel; reduce information technology and admin budgets; halt remaining facility restoration and modernization projects; cut facility sustainment programs except when they are safety related; cut spending on base operating support; cancel already planned facility demolitions; put a freeze on civilian hiring and terminate temporary workers unless they’re supporting mission-critical programs.
“These steps will not solve the problem completely,” Mabus wrote. “We will only be able to sustain current fleet operations. We will not be able to sufficiently maintain and reset our forces for future operations.”