Service Vice Chiefs Press the Need for Funding Certainty, Expanding Cyber Security
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The pressing needs for the three naval services and the maritime industry are greater budget certainty, reversing the erosion in their readiness to meet global challenges, and expanding and modernizing their shrunken and badly aged forces, all of which would be made much harder if Congress relies on a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of the fiscal year, their senior leaders said April 3.
Addressing the opening forum at the 2017 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, the No. 2 officers for the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and the acting head of the Maritime Administration also expressed the need to improve their abilities to deal with the growing cyber threat to their vital command and control and information networks.
Adm. William Moran, vice chief of naval operations; Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant Marine Corps commandant; and Adm. Charles Michel, vice commandant Coast Guard, all restated the concerns they have expressed repeatedly at congressional hearings and public events about the further deterioration in training and modernization programs if they are forced to operate under the lower funding and programing restrictions of a CR.
The current CR expires April 28 and Congress is trying to craft an appropriations bill to fund the government through Sept. 30.
What has gotten less attention is the plight described by Joel Szabat, executive director of the Maritime Administration (MARAD), that the reduction in the number of U.S.-flag merchant vessels and qualified mariners and an old fleet of cargo ships could make MARAD unable to respond to a major national security sealift demand. The U.S. merchant fleet has shrunk by two-thirds since Desert Storm and “there no longer are enough to fill the national sealift needs,” Szabat said.
The current drop in global merchant shipping presents an opportunity for the nation to buy used foreign cargo ships to be adapted for sealift services, he said.
Asked about the impact of operating under a renewed CR, instead of a defense appropriations bill, Moran noted that the Navy has spent most of the money allowed by the CR.
“If we don’t see a budget, we would have to defer a lot of things,” including recruiting new Sailors to replace those who leave, putting ships into the yard for maintenance, reducing ship steaming hours and pilot training flights. “It would have a huge impact.”
Walters said the Marine Corps would maintain their forward deployed forces, but would not be able to adequately train the forces needed for future demands, including their pilots who already are not flying enough to maintain full combat qualifications.
Michel said the uncertainty of a CR would “create real problems,” including disrupting the Coast Guard’s program to start construction of a new heavy icebreaker needed to meet the growing demands for operations in the Arctic.
Moran and Walters said they were scrambling to expand their cyber security forces to confront the growing threats and Walters said that under a CR the Marines would have to cut conventional combat forces if necessary to augment cyber and information warfare capabilities.
Michel pointed out that the Coast Guard not only has the requirement to protect its own networks from cyber attacks, but is responsible for protecting the communications channels for U.S. commercial shipping.
Walters was asked about the reference in the Marines’ new aviation plan to build “Lightning carriers,” which would be big-deck amphibious assault ships modified to support a large number of F-35B Lightning II strike fighters that could substitute for the larger and more expensive nuclear-powered carriers. He said there were concept on that, but no requirement for a procurement program.
Moran dismissed the idea.
“We know how to build and operate nuclear aircraft carriers weighing 90,000 tons. We also know how to build amphibs. When we look at stability, it’s better to go with what we have.”