WASHINGTON (NNS) -- With members of Congress continuing to express concern about the impact of sequestration on the military, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a congressional panel today that the Navy and Marine Corps will be able to meet their current and future missions only with proper resourcing.
"The department's ability to meet the demands of today's operations in support of our defense strategic guidance depends on anticipating and preparing for the changing geopolitical landscape and having the proper resources ready to deploy," Mabus told the House Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony. "The department will continue to maintain the capabilities required to ensure that the Navy and Marine Corps is the finest expeditionary force in the world; however, proper resourcing is needed to maintain our capacity for global operations."
In light of a budget-driven, Pentagon-wide review of strategic priorities, he added, "everything will be on the table."
Mabus testified alongside Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Gen. James. F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps. All three leaders spoke of shortfalls and having to do more with less in the coming years if the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts triggered by last month's budget sequester remain.
"We do it to the very best we possibly can," Amos said, but he suggested that at some point, such cuts could undercut the rationale for having the Marine Corps, which is on a path to shrink from just over 202,000 Marines to 182,100.
"The Marine Corps remains the nation's ready hedge against unpredictable crisis, an insurance policy that buys time when hours matter," Amos said. He cited yesterday's bombing at the Boston Marathon and the ongoing uncertainty over North Korea's intentions to illustrate how an unpredictable and chaotic security environment demonstrates that "the need for this highly capable and ready force is more pressing now than ever."
Aware of the nation's fiscal restraints, Amos said, the Corps will make hard decisions about what it needs. But he added that "with declining resources to address the emerging security challenges, neo-isolationism does not advance our nation's national interest."
Greenert said shortfalls this fiscal year alone, while mitigated by congressional action last month, will be compounded if sequestration continues, leading to a $23 billion shortfall in 2014. The situation already has led the Navy to recommend cancelling one ship deployment to the Pacific, two to Europe and all but one to the U.S Southern Command region.
"Overall, due to reduced training and maintenance, about two-thirds of the fleet will be less than fully mission capable and not certified for major combat operations," he said, emphasizing that this state of readiness does not apply to Navy forces and assets supporting operations in Afghanistan. In addition, he said, discussion continues about the number of furlough days Navy civilians may be required to take between now and the Sept. 30 end of the current fiscal year.
Other issues not directly related to funding, but which remain among his top concerns, Greenert said, include:
-- A smaller fleet operating at a high tempo;
-- Shortfalls in at-sea manning;
-- Sexual assault, which he said affects about two sailors every day; and
-- Rising suicide rates.
The Navy has implemented a comprehensive strategy for countering sexual assault, the admiral noted, and has stood up a task force to prevent suicides.
The hearing follows President Barack Obama's submission last week of a $526.6 billion defense budget request for fiscal year 2014, one largely consistent with the previous year's, but delivered amid a budget landscape that envisions $500 billion in additional defense cuts over the next 10 years if there is no change in current law.
If Congress does not act to change that, Amos warned, the Marine Corps will have to undergo "a top-to-bottom re-examination of priorities, missions and what it will take to continue to be the nation's expeditionary force in readiness."