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Navy navigates uncertain fiscal waters

The person in charge of financing the Navy's current and future warfare requirements paid San Diego a visit on Wednesday to discuss the military's future in the face of fiscal uncertainty.

Vice Adm. John Terence Blake spoke at the San Diego Military Advisory Council’s monthly breakfast inside the Naval Mine and Anti-Submarine Warfare Command on Harbor Drive.

He shortens his lengthy title — the deputy chief of naval operations for the integration of capabilities and resources — by simply calling himself "the money guy."

“It’s a challenging time for our military and our nation as we draw down from more than 10 years in war," he said.

Unlike past post-war trends, when threats typically diminish, the nation still faces security concerns. Those include cyber warfare and the looming "fiscal cliff."

“Continued deficit spending is a serious national security threat,” he said. "When you compare the proportion of the federal budget today with that of the 1990s, we the Department of Navy are already receiving a relatively smaller piece of a smaller pie."

Planned federal cuts are set to reduce overall defense spending by $487 billion, or at least 9 percent, starting next year. Sequestration would tack on $500 billion in additional defense cuts over the next decade.

The key is balancing long-term investments and capability with near-term capacity and readiness while dipping into a lighter piggy bank.

"Your efforts here are helping ensure San Diego’s infrastructure and industry is ready to invest in these challenges and meet the nation’s needs in the coming decades," he said.

To avoid a weakened force, Department of Defense leaders developed strategic guidance to craft the military a blueprint for the future.

“Through this lens we are making tough but disciplined decisions based on strategic priorities,” he said.

One of its main agenda items is to refocus resources on the Asia Pacific.

A plan is in place to rebalance ships’ homeports, floating 60 percent in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic by 2020.

That means the Navy will increase its presence in the Western Pacific by 20 percent, putting San Diego’s defense community in a prime location for doing business.

“San Diego-based Navy and Marine Corps forces are key enablers of this rebalance," he said. “The San Diego community is well-positioned to help us achieve our missions in the Pacific.”

To ensure undersea dominance in the Asia Pacific, money is being spent on upgrading torpedoes, commissioning two new submarines and developing new underwater vehicles.

“The U.S. is a Pacific power, and our investments today will ensure we remain one in the future,” he said. “We understand we need to maintain relationships will allies and partners around the world.”

Military leaders from 22 nations launched Rim of the Pacific Exercise this summer, testing out anti-submarine and surface warfare capabilities.

“Many U.S. ships that participated sailed from San Diego," he noted.

The Navy is investing in infrastructure to homeport four fleet destroyers in Spain in support of NATO’s ballistic missile defense program and a range of missions in Europe and Africa.

“These will, in turn, free up more rotationally deployed ships from the U.S. to deploy to the Asia Pacific," he said.

As the needle points west, the Marine Corps and Navy working as one team will provide the country with unique offshore options.

“The combined capabilities to project power globally and gain entry without a permission slip will be more important than ever in the coming decades," he said.

Maintaining a mix of ships in the future fleet is key.

"It is the integrated capability where the Navy achieves unparalleled warfighting excellence," he said.

The littoral combat ship — three of which now call San Diego home — can support anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, mine warfare and missions like counterterrorism, counter illicit trafficking, and humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

“Ships like the LCS, the joint high-speed vessel and mobile landing platform, built here in San Diego, also free cruisers, destroyers and nuclear submarines for deterrence missions,” he said.

To maintain capabilities, he said, the budget is designed to address a broad range of missions.

“We must maintain a balanced portfolio of people, resources and capabilities," he said. "Ships are obviously critical investments, but we also must carefully consider investments in weapons, manpower readiness, and future research and development efforts.”

Any issue with a single program can be addressed easily, but in a constrained budget environment, the challenge is maintaining a balance across the portfolio.

“I could solve anything in isolation, but when you have to spread it across an entire portfolio that’s when things are tough," he said.

Figuring out where to best put those funds is tricky when keeping the Navy's operations as a whole in mind. Weighing near and far-term demands is also a budget balancing act.

In the field, the short-term priority is No. 1, he said, but folks in D.C. need to balance the short term with an eye for the future.

"We are in a long-term business," he said. "None of us can afford to take a short-term view on how to build and support our Navy."

A great deal of uncertainty remains as it relates to sequestration, which has been at the top of the industry's mind over the past few months. It's set to kick in on Jan. 2.

“It would force devastating across-the-board cuts of approximately 9.4 percent," he said.

Sequestration would mean fewer flying hours for Navy air crews, fewer training days for ships and submarines, and less fleet maintenance. Over time, the potential cuts would result in a smaller force with a shrunken presence and longer response times.

“It would be very difficult to make choices regarding fleet maintenance and ship purchases and basic support services,” he said. “We’ve had 10 years of sustained growth in the DOD budget. We now find ourselves at an inflection point.”

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San Diego Military Advisory Council

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San Diego Military Advisory Council Executive(s):

John Nersesian

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Larry Blumberg

  • Executive Director

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