If U.S. lawmakers fail to approve a full-year budget and rely on a stopgap measure instead, the Navy will face maintenance backlogs and other shortfalls that will keep its biggest warships from deploying on schedule and leave critical carrier gaps around the world, an official said.
Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, this week said the prospect of shutting down two air wings, going to minimal operations on three more, and delaying 14 ship maintenance availabilities -- a scenario predicted by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran in February -- was the minimum damage the Navy could expect if the service did not receive the readiness finding it needed for the rest of the fiscal year.
"We have not developed those specifics, but we will relay those to Congress in a classified document later to say what are the impacts," Mulloy said Thursday during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing. "It will be that or more, and will very likely be more depending on the date that that kicks in."
The brunt of the impact, Mulloy said, would be felt in fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, when squadrons and units currently without funding to conduct training workups or maintenance would face related deployment delays.
"You would start seeing the same carrier gaps and start seeing other impacts around the world," Mulloy said.
The Navy has had to contend with several high-profile carrier gaps in recent months due to sequestration budget caps in 2013, which led to massive maintenance backlogs and threw scheduled ship maintenance availabilities off-schedule.
In October 2015, the carrier Theodore Roosevelt redeployed from the Persian Gulf, leaving the region without a carrier to conduct airstrikes on Islamic State targets -- a carrier gap directly linked to maintenance delays for the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, which had been scheduled to deploy. In November 2015, the Harry Truman Carrier Strike Group deployed to the region, ending a one-month carrier gap.
Just before the start of 2017, the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group returned home from the Middle East following a seven-month deployment, leaving a gap of nearly a month while the carrier George H. W. Bush completed preparations for its deployment. This gap too was a direct result of maintenance delays in the shipyard for the Bush.
Congress has until April 28 to pass the fiscal 2017 defense appropriations bill, avoiding a year-long continuing resolution that would keep existing budget caps in place. Mulloy said he also hoped to see predictability in future defense budgets, enabling the Navy to better plan and spend its money.
"For the current 2017 budget … we had approximately three weeks to cut $6.5 billion out of the Department of the Navy, $4.5 billion out of the Navy itself, and $2 billion out of readiness," he said. "Cutting $6.5 billion out of the Department of the Navy in a matter of weeks causes some very hard choices."