Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert told sailors in San Diego on Sept. 10 that budget decreases have cut the fleet's surge-capable carrier and amphibious ready groups dramatically. (Mark D. Faram/Staff)
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Adm. Wu Shengli, right, head of the China's People's Liberation Army Navy, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert look at command coins presented during a visit to the attack submarine Jefferson City on Sept. 9 in San Diego. The leaders visited multiple U.S. ships and military installations in the San Diego area. (MCC Julianne Metzger/Navy)
CNO stresses Pacific cooperation with Chinese counterpart
SAN DIEGO — While the Navy’s top officer spent about an hour addressing sailors during an all-hands call here Tuesday, he spent more time during his West Coast swing with a smaller, less-familiar audience.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert toured Pacific Fleet vessels and facilities with his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, before the pair head toWashington, D.C. for further talks with U.S. officials. The tour has included 3rd Fleet headquarters; visits to an aircraft carrier, submarine and littoral combat ship; and a trip to Camp Pendleton.
But sightseeing isn’t the top priority for either nation: Greenert says his goal is to establish more cooperation with the Chinese on the high seas, while the Chinese contingent want to learn as much as they can about conducting carrier aviation.
“We’ve got to find common ground because in the Pacific alone, we have natural disasters [where] 60 to 70,000 people die in the Pacific each year due to typhoons and volcano eruptions and the like,” Greenert said Tuesday. “So the fact of the matter is we need to understand how to do humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”
The CNO stressed the importance of having the Asia-Pacific region’s two most powerful fleets working together in such relief efforts, and in combating smuggling and piracy.
“We need system of set protocols with respect to the freedom of navigation that exists out there,” Greenert said. “What we want to do is get a consistent code of conduct, such as, how do we talk to each other when we come across each other out there.”
Chinese carrier ops
Accompanying Wu is the commanding officer of China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, as well as the first pilot to complete a tailhook-arrested landing on that ship.
“He wants to understand our carrier program,” Greenert said of Wu’s desires to learn during the visit. “My sense is they’re comfortable with the technology in how they make this work, because they’ve landed on their carrier.”
But the technical end is only the beginning — Greenert said the Chinese are anxious to take the next step into full-on carrier ops.
“They’ve said, ‘We’ve watched what you guys do, landing them one, two, three and then turn around and launch them — how do you do that?’ ... They’re most curious to learn how many people are in a deck crew, what are the limiting factors of the deck crew.”
On this visit, Chinese officials are simply observing how the U.S. Navy works, but Greenert said while they’ve not formally asked for more military-to-military contact regarding such procedures or requested more information, he believes such requests will come.
Wu’s last visit to the U.S. came in 2007, when he was a guest of then-CNO Adm. Mike Mullen.
— Mark Faram
SAN DIEGO — Hours before President Obama addressed the nation on potential military strikes targeting Syria, the Navy’s top officer addressed that issue, and many others, before an audience of sailors and reporters at a theater on North Island on Tuesday.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert steered clear of politics: “We are in position to ... perhaps take action in Syria,” he said. “We have destroyers where they need to be and we’re able to reposition, as necessary, to provide options.”
However, most of the questions the CNO faced weren’t about worldwide headlines. Some of the topics on the minds of sailors, and Greenert’s responses to their questions:
Greenert was frank with sailors on the subject of budget cuts, and the possibility more cuts are to come — but he also moved to reassure where he could.
Without Congressional action, what were 8 percent cuts this year, he said, will be nearly 14 percent next year. That means something has to give — over and above what gave in fiscal 2013, a year that featured delayed deployments, maintenance cuts and other cost-saving measures.
That’s taking a toll on the readiness of the service, he said.
“Our readiness level is less than it was a year ago,” he said. “Normally we have three carrier strike groups and three amphibious ready groups on standby, able to surge within seven days — that is the norm. But right now, we have one of each.”
With money short, he said the Navy’s priority had to be concentrating what money it had on preparing and supporting deploying forces.
“The forces that are out and about are good,” he said. “That’s what we spent the money on in fiscal year ’13.”
“We’re not doing maintenance in the most efficient manner,” he said. “[Fiscal uncertainty] has cost us a lot of maintenance and maintenance time. ... That is not a now, today, degradation, but it’s a degradation.”
When questioned by a sailor about the rationale behind putting off maintenance, Greenert was quick to respond.
“There is no good rationale for that, but sequestration by its very design does not give us that option — it requires that each and every budget line be reduced by a certain amount,” he said.
But he told sailors that their jobs are safe
“Now I will tell you that personnel accounts and people accounts are exempt from this we are being very judicious to make sure these things aren’t effected,” he said. “Your programs, for your development, your families and your pay, those are exempt from this process.”
A petty officer first class asked Greenert if the Navy planned to use the temporary early retirement authority, or TERA, which allows sailors with 15 years of service to qualify for retirement benefits, albeit with a reduced pension.
The authority, initially used during the 1990s, was reinstalled in fiscal 2012; since then, the Navy has only used it for about 300 sailors, who were cut by the 2011 enlisted retention board.
“We will use it as a tool,” Greenert said of TERA. “Each year we ask for as much authority as we can to use voluntary retirement as necessary — we’ve asked for both civilian and military [use] to shape the force as appropriate.”
But though the Navy has asked for the authority, personnel officials told Navy Times, there’s no current plans to use it but with looming budget cuts, they say it’s prudent to have the authority available, if needed.
“Navy leadership has been clear, if sequestration runs the full term, there could be a need for force structure and resulting manpower reductions to protect our ability to operate forward,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello, spokesman for the chief of naval personnel.
“Should we need to, programs like TERA provide us the option to reduce higher-year officer, chief and enlisted personnel on a volunteer basis — the preferable path over making involuntary cuts. We will continue to keep our folks informed as we know more and the potential for these types of decisions unfolds.”
Greenert called preventing sexual assault in the fleet “the challenge of our time,” while recounting the service’s efforts to provide more support services to victims and get tougher with perpetrators. One priority: Ensure prosecutors are “trained properly and have the right investigations taking place, and that those investigations are done on time.”
The service, he said, would get tougher on consequences, including publicizing the names, crimes and punishments of offenders.
“The accountability piece, [we will make sure] that those perpetrators are held accountable, and we will publish as much as feasible and as much as legal what happens to those who do these awful crimes,” he said.