CNO had some unwelcome news for the sailors and Marines aboard Wasp:
Putting the best face on a potentially grim future, the Navy’s top officer is telling his sailors that the active fleet will be about the same size in five years as it is now, despite recently announced plans to retire a bunch of ships early and to not build as many new ones as planned.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, told sailors and Marines here that the number of ships in the fleet in 2017 “will be about the same, 285, but it won’t be going up as high as we wanted.”
The Navy has planned for at least 313 ships in the battle fleet for years, and has counted on rapid procurement of the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and serial production of the Arleigh Burke destroyers and Virginia-class attack submarines to help reach that number.
But in his preview of the fiscal year 2013 budget, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Navy will retire seven Ticonderoga-classcruisers and two amphibious ships earlier than planned, would remove two LCS and eight Joint High Speed Vessels from the five-year defense budget plan and delay other ship construction starts.
In other, possibly related amphibious news, the Bataan has just returned to Norfolk after 10 1/2 months at sea, the longest deployment for any US warship in 40 years:
Rhaterahmi White can count on two hands – maybe one, even – the number of true days off he’s had since this amphibious assault ship pulled away from Norfolk Naval Station nearly a year ago.
He knows it isn’t many, but asked to put an exact figure on it, he hesitated.
“What do you mean by ‘day off?’ ” he asked, an indication of their rarity for deployed sailors in his profession…
The Bataan was originally set to deploy this past summer, along with the locally based amphibious ships Mesa Verde and Whidbey Island. Instead, they left nearly four months early to help respond to the crisis in Libya. They did it on 14 days’ notice, and among the consequences of such a rushed departure was little time to finish routine maintenance.
“These sailors had to do a lot just to keep the ship running for this extended period,” said the Bataan‘s commanding officer, Capt. Erik Ross. “The epic length of this deployment called for a lot of ingenuity and hard work, on everyone’s part.”
Tired ships, and tired sailors. Some of whom are being RIF’d by the thousands.
Navy had better hope that the economy does not recover to anything like full employment.