The deployment of a Navy ship out of Pearl Harbor was put on hold last week because of budget uncertainties that threaten to undermine the "rebalance" of U.S. forces to the Pacific, Adm. Samuel Locklear III, head of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced last weekend that the service is grounding a California-based air wing assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, with others facing shutdown; canceling or delaying the deployments of up to six ships through April; and sidelining four combat supply ship units in the U.S. Pacific Command area to deal with the budget crunch.
"We will not deploy (some) ships," Locklear told the House panel Tuesday. "We were just sitting on my front porch at home in Hawaii two days ago, and there's a ship sitting there that was supposed to deploy the first of this month -- and it hasn't gone."
Navy Region Hawaii spokeswoman Agnes Tauyan said the guided-missile destroyer USS Chung-Hoon was originally scheduled to leave Feb. 28.
That departure date was pushed back to Tuesday, but the deployment was deferred again to no earlier than March 15 "in order to better refine sequestration planning and execution," Tauyan said.
The Chung-Hoon has a crew of more than 280. Pearl Harbor-based destroyers participate in exercises in the western Pacific while providing a U.S. presence in the region. They also patrol the Persian Gulf.
Locklear said at the U.S. Pacific Command posture hearing in Washington that "we worked diligently to try to put things in place (with the refocus on the Pacific), but they are not all going to happen overnight."
"The road we are on will undermine that," Locklear said of budget cuts including a lack of an appropriations bill this fiscal year and sequestration kicking in.
The Navy is shifting assets to the Pacific and is expected to have 60 percent of its fleet in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic by 2020.
But Locklear said in the near term, readiness accounts are being hit, with aviation programs suffering.
"The airplanes that I need to put on the carriers that need to come forward or that go into my fighter rotations in theater will not be trained. And may not come," Locklear said.
Longer term, budget cuts are "going to be like an avalanche. It's going to compound," Locklear said. He added that "pulling those dollars out will ultimately result in less capacity" for the United States in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean.
Under sequestration, defense and domestic programs will each lose $500 billion over 10 years.
Locklear framed the cuts in the context of Asia-Pacific security, both militarily and economically. Many U.S. goods come from Asia-Pacific economies, he said.
One of the things that has guaranteed stability over the past 70 years has been the presence of U.S. military forces in the region, Locklear said.
"There are significant deterrence issues here," he said. "Today, we are deterring a North Korea that you see through all the rhetoric and all the provocations that have occurred, that this is not getting better."
In his message to Navy personnel, Mabus said with sequestration and the "budgetary uncertainty" imposed by an indefinite continuing resolution in the place of an appropriations bill, further cuts were being made.
In addition to the steps already outlined, Mabus said the Navy also would defer a humanitarian assistance deployment by the hospital ship USNS Comfort to Central and South America, return the destroyer Shoup and frigate Thach home early from deployments, and cancel four Blue Angels shows in April.
"Navy Department leadership understands the uncertainty that these and other decisions create both amongst our people and in the defense industry upon which we rely," Mabus said. "The lack of a legislative solution to avoid sequestration is deeply regrettable. That said, we must endeavor to deal with the situation as we face it, not as we wish it could otherwise be."
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