WASHINGTON -– The US Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet strike fighters are the tip of the spear, embodying most of the fierce striking power of the aircraft carrier strike group. But nearly two-thirds of the fleet’s strike fighters can’t fly – grounded because they’re either undergoing maintenance or simply waiting for parts or their turn the aviation depot backlog.
Overall, more than half the Navy’s aircraft are grounded, most because there isn’t enough money to fix them.
There isn’t enough money to fix the fleet’s ships, and the backlog of ships needing work continues to grow. Overhauls – “availabilities” in Navy parlance – are being cancelled or deferred, and when ships do come in they need longer to refit. Every carrier overall for at least three years has run long, and some submarines are out of service for prolonged periods, as much as four years or more. One submarine, the Boise, has lost its diving certification and can’t operate pending shipyard work, and leaders claim that if more money doesn’t become available five more will be in the same state by the end of this year.
The Navy can’t get money to move around service members and their families to change assignments, and about $440 million is needed to pay sailors. And the service claims 15 percent of its shore facilities are in failed condition – awaiting repair, replacement or demolition.
The bleak picture presented by service leaders is in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s widely-talked about plan to grow the Navy from today’s 308-ship fleet goal to 350 ships – now topped by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s new Force Structure Assessment that aims at a 355-ship fleet. Richardson’s staff is crafting further details on how the growth will be carried out -- plans Congressional leaders are eager to hear. It seems to many as though the Navy will be showered with money to attain such lofty goals.
Yet for now, money is tight, due to several years of declining budgets mandated first by the Obama administration, then Congress, and to the chronic inability of lawmakers to provide uninterrupted funds to the military services and the government at large.
Budgets have been cut despite no slackening in the demand for the fleet’s services, and the Navy, to preserve shipbuilding funds, made a conscious choice to slash maintenance and training budgets rather than eliminate ships, which take many years to build and can’t be produced promptly even when funding becomes available. (end of excerpt)
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