Navy chief raises future readiness concerns amid Syria controversy

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Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert warned Thursday that the Navy’s surge capacity has taken a significant sequestration hit, but that ships already in place near Syria are ready for any military action.

Speaking with former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl at the American Enterprise Institute, Greenert emphasized that sequestration has taken a toll on the Navy’s ability to respond quickly to changing events.

“Usually we have three carrier strike groups and three amphibious ready groups able to respond within a week, but we only have one now,” Greenert said.

The first round of sequestration cuts amounted to $11 billion for the Navy alone, but Greenert admitted the decrease was somewhat moderated by using unobligated Navy funding from 2012.

But if sequestration continues into fiscal year 2014, which is coming up October 1, Greenert predicts that the Navy’s surge capacity will fall to “about one-third of the norm.”

Greenert was quick to say he was satisfied with current military readiness, but added that cuts to shipbuilding and acquisition could hurt the Navy’s ability to respond in the future. He expects to lose a bit of every kind of machinery: about 25 aircraft in all, including some of the controversial and massively expensive F-35 fighter jet, a littoral combat ship, a float-forward staging base, and possibly a submarine and destroyer as well.

When it comes to Syria, though, the Navy has not yet surged any forces to the Gulf. The current U.S. fleet in the Mideast consists of four destroyers and one amphibious transport ship capable of launching ground forces and Tomahawk missiles, and Navy officers are still considering whether to keep a fifth destroyer, the U.S.S. Mahan, available for a Syria operation.

“They are ready,” the admiral said of the fleet. “They are organized, trained and equipped for a vast spectrum of operations, including what they may be asked to do for a strike against Syria.”

While the ships may be prepared to take action, military and Congressional leaders have doubts about funding a Syria operation while the military is subject to sequestration.

Greenert reported that “supplemental [funding] might be the order of the day.”

Between Tomahawk missiles, which cost $1.5 million apiece, and various shipping costs, which run from $7 million per week for a destroyer up to $40 million for a carrier strike group in action, the 60-90 day operation currently being considered by Congress could add up.

While Admiral Greenert did not voice his own opinion on whether the military should take action in Syria, former Senator Jon Kyl said that “notwithstanding a series of mistakes and putting the U.S. in a bad position, sometimes you don’t have any option but to take action — and this is one such situation.”

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee narrowly passed a resolution authorizing a 60-90 military action with the option for a 30-day extension if brought to Congress, 10-7-1. The authorization will need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

But the House may have something different in mind. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon announced his effort to tie the authorization for use of force to a repeal of military spending cuts.

“My concern is the readiness of our troops, not just on this [Syria] mission, but on the next one and the next one,” McKeon told the Washington Free Beacon. The congressman claimed the support of 90 to 100 percent of the Services Committee for ending sequestration.

But if sequestration remains in place and supplemental funding is not provided for a Syrian strike, Greenert said the Navy is prepared.

“For the remainder of this fiscal year, for September, we’re comfortable to operate, because [our ships] are already over there,” Greenert said. After that, the Navy could borrow money from its future budget or, given the opportunity to take the funds from another Navy account, which is currently not allowed under the Budget Control Act.

In the end the cost of Syrian operations is not yet a significant concern to the Navy, according to Greenert. “The numbers are nagging and they’re another challenge, but they’re not extraordinary at this point.”

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