Budget details, released Wednesday, call for the Navy to grow by more than 8,600 sailors by the end of fiscal 2018. (MC3 Travis K. Mendoza / Navy)
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While the other services' ranks shrink, the Navy plans to boost the force by as many as 8,600 sailors over the next six years to plus-up ship crews and the Navy's cyber force, according to the service's $156 billion budget, released Wednesday, which also calls for building eight ships and buying 165 airplanes.
The Navy's base budget request dropped three percent compared with the year before, but may still trigger the massive sequester cuts that have already forced the service to cancel ship deployments this year.
These cuts have also stalled the multi-million dollar repairs needed for the destroyer Porter and attack submarine Miami.
The military's spending plan has again put the Pentagon and Capitol Hill on a collision course, but the Navy's budget director stressed that one area was secure: personnel. Officials plan to increase the size of the Navy by 900 personnel, with an end strength request for 323,600 sailors at the end of September 2014. However, the force currently stands at 317,464 sailors — well below the end strength targeted for the end of this fiscal year.
Over the next six years, the Navy plans to grow by roughly 1,000 sailors a year to hit 326,100 in fiscal year 2018, the projection farthest into the future. Those billets include 500 maintainers at intermediate repair facilities, 1,000 nuclear-trained personnel, 980 sailors for F/A-18 Growler squadrons, 1,000 crewmembers and trainers for littoral combat ships and another 1,000 for Navy cyber.
“The Navy's going to grow slowly over time,” said Rear Adm. Joe Mulloy, the deputy assistant Navy secretary for budget, in the Navy budget presentation Wednesday. “We've pretty much reached the point where, to be able to operate with the force we have and to be able to properly man and train, we need these forces.”
The budget allocates $11 billion to build eight ships: two Virginia-class attack subs, one destroyer, four LCS hulls, and one mobile landing platform.
Sailors will feel the effects of the Navy's $4 billion hit under sequestration for the current fiscal year, officials made clear Wednesday. To save money, two squadrons have been reduced to minimum safe flying hours with two more set to joint them. And non-deployed crews will see the number of steaming days drop to 20 per quarter, depriving them of training time.
“Every ship is losing 20 percent of their underway days,” Mulloy said. “Doesn't seem like a lot, but I'll tell you having been an XO and the training officer and the commanding officer of a ship, five underway days in a quarter is officer training, petty officer training, navigation, in and out.”
The Navy had slated seven cruisers and two dock landing ships for
retirement in the next two years, plans that raised objections from
lawmakers upset that the fleet continues to shrink. Those ships are
now funded, but that could change if the Navy finds itself strapped
for cash later on, Mulloy made clear.
“There are no decommissionings for any of those ships in this budget,”
Mulloy said, adding that if sequester takes effect he wouldn’t rule
out retiring them in fiscal year 2015.