If automatic Pentagon budget cuts go through as scheduled next week, the Navy is going to grind its major operations practically to a halt. Or at least that’s the message it’s sending on social media.
The Navy’s top public-affairs officer, Rear Adm. John Kirby, tweeted out an updated plan Tuesday for how the Navy absorbs billions of dollars in budget cuts scheduled to take effect on March 1. The deployments of 10 destroyers will be cancelled, including seven tasked with missile defense. Four aircraft-carrier air wings will be “shut down.” The Navy will “Reduce Investment in ships, aircraft, weapons, R&D” by $7.75 billion. Should a crisis break out somewhere in the world in 2013, only one aircraft carrier strike group will be available for deployment.
Others in the Navy public-affairs shop took to their own social-media accounts to spread the word. The Navy’s official Twitter account retweeted the planning document to its 114,000-plus followers. Consider it a form of public pressure.
Tweeting the expected impact for what’s called “sequestration” inside the Beltway fits a recent Navy pattern. The seafaring service has been vocal in advertising how budget cuts will hobble it. Earlier this month, it publicly cancelled the deployment of the USS Harry Truman to the Middle East, leaving the region with only one U.S. aircraft carrier near Iran for the first time in two years, right before a new round of nuclear negotiations with the Iranians. Days later, it said it would delay the years-long refueling and retrofitting of another aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, which saves money by putting additional strain on the other carriers. (And something also prominently tweeted by the Navy.) Air-show attendees will also have to do without the Blue Angels.
Turns out the aircraft carriers are just the beginning of the Navy’s expected woes. There will be “immediate coverage gaps” in multiple military commands worldwide, according to the Navy plan. No amphibious ready groups will be prepared to go into crisis zones. The Marines’ version of the F-35 stealth fighter won’t go into flight testing on the USS Wasp. There won’t be any Navy operations inSouth America. And all of this is on top of the Navy’s recent announcement that it expects to build fewer surface ships than it had planned for years.
It’s debatable how much this Navy planning is intended to pressure Congress and President Obama to work out a deal averting the cuts ahead of the March 1 deadline. At least one commentator thinks the Navy’s public cries of impending penury are inappropriate. “The Navy could have cut back other, less-sensitive deployments or acquisition programs,” Ralph Peters wrote in the New York Post last week. “But the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chose to embarrass the White House and pressure Congress. He should have been fired.”
As Sam LaGrone of the U.S. Naval Institute wrote for Danger Room last week, the Navy’s making a specific gamble with its deployment cuts and their impact on short-term naval readiness. It’s sacrificing what it does in the near-term in order to preserve its long-term, high-budget shipbuilding plans, which take years to come to fruition.
But the Navy’s social-media plan already is. It took the unusual step of tweeting its budget documents shortly after sending it to Congress. Congress is out of session this week — indicating that Navy is diving into the blue waters of public opinion to save its money.