HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) - They're considered to be "The Tip of the Spear" when it comes to national defense, but the Navy's carrier strike groups may prove to be no match for sequestration.
Reducing the number of carrier strike groups is part of a "worst-case" scenario laid out by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, if congress does not agree on a budget and stop sequestration. Other defense spending cuts could include a reduction of staffing in military headquarters -- both options could drastically affect Hampton Roads.
The plan to mothball carriers is just one option being considered by the Department of Defense to reduce its budget by a half trillion dollars over the next 10 years, as mandated by sequestration. It is also part of a larger plan that could threaten the United State's position as the world's preeminent superpower.
The plan discussed on Wednesday by Hagel would force the Navy to mothball up to three aircraft carriers.
"To me, it's a clarion call for replacing sequester with another way of reducing spending," said Craig Quigley, DIR HRMFFA.
Reducing the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to eight, or even nine, would mean the Navy would shrink that part of the fleet to its lowest numbers since World War II. At a time, the Navy had already reduced it's presence in the Arabian Gulf region from two carriers to one.
The lingering question: Would the Navy be able to meet its global operational requirements with less than 10?
"Art it cannot meet its' operational requirements right now...," said 4th District Congressman Randy Forbes on the phone to WAVY.com.
During a break in the House Armed Services Committee meeting in Washington Thursday afternoon, Forbes -- who chairs the House Subcommittee on Seapower – told WAVY.com that in 2007 the Navy was meeting 90 percent of the combatant commanders' requirements across the globe. He said in the last two years, budget cuts, even before sequestration, have limited the Navy to meeting just over half of it's operational requirements.
"If these go through and they cut these carrier groups back, we will be far below even 50 percent of our co-commanders' requirements, which is a dangerous position for us to be in across the globe," Forbes said.
Currently Congress requires the Navy to maintain 11 carriers, although with the USS Enterprise recently inactivated and the Ford still under construction, the number has been reduced to 10.
"A lot of thought, a lot of study, a lot of deliberation went into that," said Quigley. "I think we'd be very, it would be very foolish for us to go to a lower number without thinking that through..."
The Department of Defense' options to reduce spending also include a plan to reduce staffing at military headquarters by 20 percent over the next four years, beginning in 2014.
If the plan is approved, the staffing reductions would be stretched over a four-year period, cutting five percent of the workforce each year. In a region that hosts a number of command headquarters, this would likely affect all of Hampton Roads.
A memo released by the Deputy Secretary of State Wednesday afternoon directs senior managers to make cuts to their staff "aggressively and as soon as possible." If the plan is adopted, senior staffs at headquarters across the country would be reduced by 20 percent by 2019.
"In Hampton Roads, that would be Fleet Forces Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, Air Combat Command, the joint staff in Suffolk. Ah, we would be affected in many ways," said Quigley.
The plan calls for some of the cuts to begin in the next fiscal year in order to increase savings and reduce staff cuts required in later years. The House Armed Services Committee discussed the plan in more detail Thursday afternoon. During a break in that meeting Forbes told WAVY.com about a development that offers little hope for a way out.
"The White House has just doubled down and said even if we can manage to get an agreement between the house and the senate on how to fix this sequestration for national defense, stop these furloughs, stop these cuts, that he will not support it unless he gets all of the spending in every area across government and all the tax increases he wants. Art that's just dangerous, because basically it says this thing is not going to get fixed," Forbes said.
The plan will allow Service Secretaries and Chiefs to decide the allocation of cuts among various organizations within their headquarters staffs. Reduction plans are due on September 23.
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