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Navy Secretary Warns Against Trump's Plan to Cut Budgets by 5 Percent

U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer testifies during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee September 19, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer testifies during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee September 19, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The U.S. Navy's top official said Thursday that President Donald Trump's proposed 5 percent cut to next year's budget would be "stunning" to the service's plans for the future.

Earlier this fall, Trump asked all of his cabinet secretaries to cut next year's budget plans by 5 percent to "get rid of the waste," The Associated Press reported.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer told an audience Thursday at the Center for Strategic & International Studies that cutting that much from next year's spending plan would likely damage the progress the service has made from funding in the last two budget cycles.

"The waste would be absolutely stunning," he said. "I am a tad bit limited on what I can say. It is the president's budget, and the topline hasn't been presented to us yet. I will tell you we are working various scenarios. ... Some of the scenarios will make your eyes water for what we might have to do if the numbers are certain numbers."

Spencer added, "The other comment I will make is we have such great tailwind right now, and we have laid the foundation and spent this money to get us going in the right direction. The bicycle is up; we are peddling. Please don't knock us over."

The Navy is currently on track with its ambitious plan to achieve a 355-ship fleet by 2034, in addition to taking steps to solve its shortage of attack submarines.

But there are other future priorities on Spencer's wish list that have uncertain futures.

As the ice continues to melt in the Arctic, Russia has increased its military presence near the Arctic Circle.

"The Arctic is an area, ladies and gentlemen, that we must focus on," Spencer said. "It is in my wish list. We need to have a strategic Arctic port up in Alaska."

He argued that the U.S. must do a better job monitoring activity in the area.

"We have cruise ships going up there," he said. "Can you imagine having a Carnival line cruise ship having a problem and the Russians do the extraction?"

But Spencer admits it's about "resource management."

"We need to sell the business plan to our representatives so they fund it appropriately," he said. "Everyone is up there but us. I mean we are under the water ... we have been under the water since the 1960s, but peace through presence with submarines is a little tough."

Modernizing the Navy's sealift capability is another item on Spencer's wish list.

"Technically, we can fill the 15-million-square-foot requirement for the lift. ... Can we do it better? Can we do it more efficiently? Do we need to recapitalize? Yes, yes, and yes," he said.

One challenge is that the Navy has a "whole slew that are [powered by] steam plants," Spencer said. "We are losing expertise in steam plants. One of the things we are looking at is, can you pull the ship up, carve a hole in the side, take the steam plant out and put diesel electric in? Again, it's a resource issue."

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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