Guest Host: Paul Brown

With sequestration cuts days away, all branches of the U.S. military are warning of dire impacts on their day-to-day operations. The Department of Defense has laid out a scenario involving layoffs and furloughs for civilian employees, and some deployments have already been delayed or deferred. But the disruptions could have more immediate and potentially long-lasting impact on the U.S. Navy. Kojo talks with a military reporter about the unique challenges the Navy is facing.

Guests

  • Sam LaGrone news editor, U.S. Naval Institute

Transcript

  • 13:06:38

    MR. PAUL BROWNFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Paul Brown from NPR sitting in for Kojo. Barring last minute intervention, sequestration is set to go into effect on Friday. Not half of the projected 85 billion plus dollars in federal spending cuts that come with will hit the nation's defense budget.

  • 13:07:13

    MR. PAUL BROWNThe money will come from each military branch in near equal measure but affect each in different ways. And because of the U.S. Navy's work centers around the use and maintenance of a lot of big ticket equipment such as ships ranging in size from frigate to carrier and fleets of fighter jets, that branch is facing some difficult and immediate decisions about deferring maintenance and deployments that have already started to ripple through commands and raise questions about readiness.

  • 13:07:44

    MR. PAUL BROWNHere to help us understand what sequestration could mean for the Navy is Sam LaGrone. He is the editor for U.S.N.I News for the U.S. Naval Institute. Sam LaGrone, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:07:58

    MR. SAM LAGRONEGood afternoon, Paul. Glad to be here.

  • 13:08:00

    BROWNAs we get started, tell us what your job is and what U.S.N.I News is. Most people probably don't know what that is.

  • 13:08:07

    LAGRONESure, U.S.N.I News is the daily arm for information from the U.S. Naval Institute. We're probably best known from our monthly publication proceedings but in the last year we have decided to enter into the daily content realm and inform the public as well as we can.

  • 13:08:28

    BROWNLet's take it back another step, what is the U.S. Naval Institute?

  • 13:08:31

    LAGRONEThe U.S. Naval Institute was founded in 1873. It's an organization of people primarily in the Navy but it's not exclusive, that have conversations and discussions and they write about sea power and the sea services both domestically and internationally.

  • 13:08:49

    BROWNOkay, who is your primary audience?

  • 13:08:51

    LAGRONEWell, like I said it's a membership organization with, you know, focusing on the sea services, the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy but, you know, Paul, if you wanted to join today I'm sure we could sign you up.

  • 13:09:06

    BROWNWell, look, in the last few weeks there have been a lot of predictions of the effects of sequestration and it seems as though the Navy's been sounding the alarm for months. What is unique about how cuts will affect the Navy as contrasted perhaps to some of the other branches of our military?

  • 13:09:27

    LAGRONEThe thing about the Navy that separates it out from all of the other services is in order for it to operate it needs very large pieces of equipment, primarily ships and aircraft. These cuts cut into the operation and maintenance of those ships and aircraft at least initially.

  • 13:09:46

    LAGRONEThe way that the naval budget is structured they're very limited as to how they can mess with the acquisition for larger ticket items, particularly in this instance. So you have sequestration, which is, you know, about the 10 percent cuts across the board but then you also have the continuing resolution going on in Congress which sort of freezes funding for the Navy.

  • 13:10:11

    LAGRONESo the Navy's 2013 budget is still pending on the Hill and the continuing resolution adds restrictions in addition to sequestration. So all told, you're looking at about an $8.6 billion bill that the Navy has to find before the end of the year.

  • 13:10:29

    BROWNThere was a very interesting piece on NPR's morning edition today, which discussed the sequestration and helped explain what it really is and it drew the analogy between your home finances and the nation's finances, in saying that sequestration really is across the board. It's an across the board cut, it's not a question of judgment as to what can be cut or what should be cut more or less in order to come up with a final number.

  • 13:10:57

    BROWNIt's simply an across the board cut which might mean, for example, that if your home budget were sequestered the way Congress is apparently sequestering the nation's budget or a portion of the nation's budget, that would mean you could only pay 90 percent of your mortgage bill for that month and 90 percent of your car payment and 90 percent of your gas bill rather than cutting something else out and paying what you owed on these other things.

  • 13:11:25

    BROWNSo it creates tremendous stresses that I think many of us may not have understood when we first heard about sequestration on government agencies and anyone else who spends federal money and perhaps is on contract or under contract to pay people to whom they're obligated. In the case of the Navy we've got a big, big organization with gigantic pieces of technology and equipment all of which must be maintained.

  • 13:11:53

    BROWNYou've got contracts out on airplanes, ships, munitions, you name it. How does the Navy plan to handle sequestration if it comes to pass?

  • 13:12:06

    LAGRONEWell, first of all the one thing that everyone needs to keep in mind is reductions in military personnel are not going to be affected sequestration. So you, then you look at other places where the Navy spends money and that's operations and maintenance and then it's the civilian workforce. So how the Navy's handling it right now, what they can do is they can take money out of those operations and maintenance accounts and they can take money out of the civilian workforce.

  • 13:12:34

    LAGRONESo Admiral Jonathan Greenert, who's the chief of naval operations, was up on the Hill yesterday and he did a lot to outline some of the things that they're going to be doing and some of the things that have already happened have been pretty dramatic.

  • 13:12:48

    LAGRONEFor example, the USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group is being delayed indefinitely from going into the Middle East...

  • 13:12:58

    BROWNYes, that was about to go out on another deployment.

  • 13:13:00

    LAGRONEThat was.

  • 13:13:01

    BROWNEarly in the month.

  • 13:13:02

    LAGRONESo in order to save what the Navy is calling hundreds of millions of dollars they are keeping that pier side and they're keeping that crew ready to go in case they need to surge a carrier out there. But instead they deployed the USS Eisenhower, which had already been out for a significant long deployment.

  • 13:13:20

    LAGRONEThey'd been back for about two or three months and now they have to go back again. So they're going to be spending a lot of time at sea so, you know, that has a second order effect on those sailors and their families. Some of the other dramatic instances are the delaying of refueling the USS Lincoln.

  • 13:13:37

    BROWNAnd when we say refueling here we're talking about a nuclear powered ship, is that correct?

  • 13:13:42

    LAGRONERight, refueling is almost a misnomer. So at the...

  • 13:13:46

    BROWNSo this is a big operation. It's not like filling up a gasoline tank in a car?

  • 13:13:50

    LAGRONEIt takes three to four years. So what you do at the half midway point of every single Nimitz Class carrier you take them into the yard and for about three to four years you go and you refuel the carrier but in addition that you do a series of upgrades. You take pretty much everything down to the bulkheads and go and refurbish the carrier to extend it for another 25 years of operation.

  • 13:14:15

    BROWNSo this is a really framed down total refurbishment that's involved when we're talking about refueling. Basically they're restoring the ship.

  • 13:14:23

    LAGRONEThey call it refueling and complex overhaul and the complex overhaul is the part that takes a lot of the work and the effort.

  • 13:14:29

    BROWNRight. If you want to join our conversation, please give us a call, 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at kojo@wamu.org or get in touch through Facebook or send us a tweet to @kojoshow. I'm Paul Brown, in for Kojo Nnamdi and we are talking with Sam LaGrone of U.S.N.I news about the effects of sequestration on the navy, on the military and how to handle sequestration in a large organization. We'd be happy to hear from you.

  • 13:15:03

    BROWNYou were talking about yesterday's visit to the Hill from an officer and also yesterday President Obama visited a shipyard in Newport News, Va. Civilian military employees there you've just mentioned, people who work there, are the personnel set to be hit the hardest. Let's listen to the president for a moment here.

  • 13:15:23

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMASo here at Newport News Ship Building, you guys have made an enormous investment because we've said in order to maintain the finest Navy that the world has ever known, we've got to make sure that there's an orderly process whereby we are continually upgrading our ships, building new ships, maintaining our ships properly and these are some big ships.

  • 13:15:48

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMASo it's expensive and it's complicated and you've got 5,000 suppliers all across the country and you've got to have some certainty and some knowledge about how things are going to proceed over the long term for Mike and others to plan properly. So you're rightly concerned. Mike is properly concerned about the impact that these cuts will have on not just this company but companies and small businesses from all 50 states that supply you with parts and equipment.

  • 13:16:17

    BROWNAnd that's President Obama at Newport News, Va. yesterday. By the way, the Mike he refers to several times there is Mike Petters. He is the president and CEO of the shipyard. Sam LaGrone, he speaks to a lot of the things that you've said right there. Republicans have been saying in the past few days that the president is now exaggerating the impact of sequestration.

  • 13:16:39

    BROWNEarlier, Republicans were frantically trying to get away from sequestration precisely because of the effects that they predicted it would have on the military. Where's the truth?

  • 13:16:51

    LAGRONEWell, the truth...

  • 13:16:53

    BROWNThe way you understand it.

  • 13:16:54

    LAGRONE...well, the truth is what the Navy says it has to do in order to combat these cuts or in order to deal with these cuts. So you're dealing with sequestration, which is the mandated 10 percent cuts. You're also dealing with this continuing resolution and for the Navy that translates to about $9 billion bill that they have to cover in short order.

  • 13:17:17

    LAGRONEThe way that the Navy operates, the way the most of the military operates, is they plan things well in advance. So if you think about a ship, you know, a ship depending on what class it is, takes years to build. You know, it involves thousands of people in the construction. So when the president was down at the Newport News Shipyards which is a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, Mike Petters has been talking about potentially the effects of sequestration on his organization but the manufacturer for now is okay.

  • 13:17:49

    LAGRONESo the building of the ships really isn't a huge issue now. I mean, it has the potential to be. Right now the more pressuring question for the Navy is that operations and maintenance which is a huge concern for the Navy. I mean, it has been before this whole debate has been. So you're thinking about the Navy has been in, what they call a surge posturer, for a very long time in support of everything, you know, involved with Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to all the other duties that they have to go and undertake.

  • 13:18:24

    LAGRONESo you have a ship, you know, if I'm thinking about a destroyer I'm thinking about DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyer. It's a big 10,000 ton warship, it's highly complicated. Well, in order to make that get to its 30 to 35 year lifespan you need to be able to take it in for maintenance.

  • 13:18:42

    BROWNYou have to maintain it. It's like any machine but it's a gigantic complex machine.

  • 13:18:46

    LAGRONEIt's the equivalent of, you know, your 20,000 mile service. Well, the Navy hasn't been able to do as many of those already and the reduction in these operations and maintenance dollars is going to make it more difficult. So it's I'm going to cover my bill now by skipping that oil change but at the end of the day it's going to mean my vehicle's going to have less time.

  • 13:19:09

    BROWNAs they say, it's going to come back to bite you.

  • 13:19:11

    LAGRONEExactly.

  • 13:19:12

    BROWNHey, let's go to Dirk in Herndon, Va. Dirk, you are on the air.

  • 13:19:16

    DIRKThanks guys, thanks for taking my call. You know, I can surely appreciate the, I mean, those logistics and everything, you know, but I would just like to point out that as just a kind of typical guy, I've been on furlong for almost three years now, you know. I've taken a 20 percent cut for almost three years now and while I do support the mission that everybody supports, you know, I think it has to be stood around a little farther.

  • 13:19:43

    LAGRONEWell, one of the things, Dirk, that the Navy's looking at and what Admiral Greenert asked for from Congress yesterday was the ability to be able to target where those cuts need to come from. So thinking about the civilian workforce and the Navy's got about 186,000 civilians. They're looking for about a 20 percent reduction in salaries while some of those people are doing essential missions that the navy would like to keep on.

  • 13:20:06

    LAGRONESo it's not so much a question as far as the navy -- of course the navy doesn't want to see those cuts happen but they want to be able to choose where they come from, right now just kind of lopping it all off at 10 percent.

  • 13:20:17

    DIRKAnd from what I understand the recent request or recent submission is to let the president or the executive branch make those scalpel cuts.

  • 13:20:30

    BROWNIs that -- that's been said but the question is, is that practical and is it going to be really legal under the current legislation? I think those are unanswered questions at this point. But what I'm hearing you say, Dirk, is that everyone is exaggerating this danger. How is it that you feel that when we're talking about very, very large commitments on maintenance of equipment, we've got hundreds of thousands of people in the armed services, civilian employees who may be laid off. These are individual families.

  • 13:21:03

    BROWNIt sounds like a fairly significant commitment -- set of commitments that the military is having to move back on.

  • 13:21:12

    DIRKAnd that is -- I mean, it's hard to understand the complexity and the -- I mean, the -- you know, for want of a better word, the ginormous amounts of money and funds and people and blood and treasure that's involved. But at some point, you know, it's a tough nut to crack, you know. And I -- you know, I don't know -- I guess that's what it is.

  • 13:21:36

    BROWNYou know, surveys have been out and I just was reading a Pew Research Center report, Dirk -- and thank you, by the way, very much for your call -- but surveys have come out one after another that tell us that the same concerns that legislatures say they have are shared by the general population. People want to trim spending. We want to balance or at least get closer to balance on the budget and cut the deficit. But when we ask where those cuts should be made, no one has a specific idea, and nothing that they want to really let go of.

  • 13:22:09

    BROWNHere we're seeing another example. We'll be back in just a moment. And this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" from WAMU. I'm Paul Brown sitting in for Kojo. We're talking with Sam LaGrone of WSNI (sic) News.

  • 13:24:08

    BROWNWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Paul Brown from NPR News sitting in today for Kojo with Sam LaGrone. He's the editor for U.S.N.I. News for the U.S. Naval Institute. We are talking about the possible impacts of sequestration on the U.S. Navy, a service that has lots of heavy equipment that has to be maintained and contracts that need to be met. Sam, what would sequestration do really to the navy's ability to provide the type of security that we are expecting of it?

  • 13:24:43

    LAGRONEWell, you can already see some of that happenings right now. So the United States Navy nine months out of the year since about 2010 has had two carrier strike groups in the Middle East. That has already been reduced to one. That's -- the commanders in U.S. Central Command want those carriers there, but budgetarily they can't do it. You're also -- as this progresses you're also looking at the lack of deployment for the U.S.S. Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group. So that's a trio of ships that hold marines. And they're designed to float around the world and have the ability to deploy marines for humanitarian roles or for security issues.

  • 13:25:26

    LAGRONEYou know, marines, I think famously from the September 11th consulate attacks in Benghazi, part of those marines were able to get quickly to Libya, you know, as part of these args. So that's going to be going away. You're going to be seeing -- as things progress you're going to be seeing less ability for drug interdictions in the U.S. southern command. So the U.S. and the coast -- or the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard and a couple of other organizations spend a lot of time doing drug and human trafficking interdictions in the Caribbean and the eastern Pacific.

  • 13:26:05

    BROWNAnd some of that will have to come to a halt.

  • 13:26:07

    LAGRONEBut the U.S. Navy said that their involvement in those interdictions would end.

  • 13:26:11

    BROWNDo you know anything about, by chance, how the coast guard might be affected?

  • 13:26:15

    LAGRONEActually, the Commandant Admiral Papp of the coast guard talked a little bit today about it at the State of the Coast Guard Address. And right now they're not as in bad shape as the navy is but they're going to be seeing effects -- I think the last thing that Commandant Papp said was that they might not have to do the same level of civilian furloughs or any for the coast guard.

  • 13:26:45

    BROWNWell, I've got a note here that says, "Do we really need all the carriers we have? How about all the submarines? When, for example, is the last time a submarine, which is primarily designed for anti-submarine warfare shot a torpedo in anger at another navy submarine?"

  • 13:27:03

    LAGRONEWell, submarines aren't primarily for anti-submarine warfare anymore. That's kind of a Cold War idea.

  • 13:27:10

    BROWNOkay. How are they used now?

  • 13:27:11

    LAGRONESubmarines now are used for a lot of different reasons. So go back to the Libyan air campaign. You had U.S. Navy submarines launch several hundred Tomahawks into that area to help weaken their air defense. Submarines now -- the Virginia class submarines and the Los Angeles class submarines are used a lot in the Middle East for intelligence gathering, because you can't see them. They're also used as platforms for Special Operations Forces.

  • 13:27:43

    LAGRONEThe submarine, the navy really likes it and they get a lot of use. And they're very, very busy. They're very busy because they're almost impossible to detect.

  • 13:27:53

    BROWNUm-hum. So submarines valuable in a different new way, threatened at this point in terms of not having the ability to refuel them and maintain them as our surface ships?

  • 13:28:05

    LAGRONEThey ultimately will also see some of the operation and maintenance challenges as part of sequestration and the continuing resolution. Submarines, because they operate in an environment where humans can't live ordinarily, they're -- have a much stricter set of standards when it comes to operating and maintaining those. So you potentially will see less submarines but they will not be less safe.

  • 13:28:30

    BROWNWhat happens if sequestration begins and then congress comes to some sort of an agreement...

  • 13:28:36

    LAGRONEWell, the navy has...

  • 13:28:37

    BROWN...on the budget?

  • 13:28:38

    LAGRONEWell, the navy has structured what they're doing now in a stance they're calling reversible. So the idea is, okay we're going to take money out of these operations and maintenance accounts one, because it's really hard to get into the regular ship-building programs without congressional position, and then two, because if you get that money back it's easily refundable or reversible.

  • 13:29:03

    LAGRONENow Admiral Greenert yesterday on The Hill said that just in February the navy has lost about $600 million. And as this progresses it could get more difficult to make these changes reversible.

  • 13:29:18

    BROWNLet's go to Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you are on the air. Thanks for calling in.

  • 13:29:24

    PETERHi, thank you. My point is we have a very large navy as we all know, that's well beyond the power of any other country in the world, especially in aircraft carriers. So why is it that we need to continue this mechanics and upgrading of these aircraft carriers when the -- I'm in the army. So in the army we're facing a complete halt of training. So why, when we're the primary force in Afghanistan now and in future wars of ground warfare, we would face a halt of training versus a lack of maybe one carrier strike group, which we already outnumber all the countries in the world by. So why do you think that's more important? And thank you for taking my call.

  • 13:30:02

    BROWNSam LaGrone. Thanks.

  • 13:30:04

    LAGRONEWell, it's not so much what I think. It's what the administration and the congress have said in legislation. So right now the United States Navy is congressionally mandated to have 11 carriers, 11 nuclear carriers. So that number has been bumped down temporarily to ten because the U.S.S. Enterprise has just recently been decommissioned. And the Gerald Ford has not yet entered into the fleet and it won't for several years. That's a civilian decision that was made and, I mean, really it's -- the navy doesn't have a whole lot of say as far as those requirements.

  • 13:30:44

    LAGRONEI mean, of course they advise the president on sort of what their requirements are, but ultimately in that specific carrier question it's up to congress and the administration.

  • 13:30:54

    BROWNWhat is your sense overall as to how sequestration will affect the navy and its operations. Is this going to be seriously crippling or are we looking at a service that can provide the type of security that the U.S. wants whose equipment won't deteriorate to the point where it really places the country in danger?

  • 13:31:15

    LAGRONEWell, the navy will tell you that it will be extremely crippling. So we talked a little bit earlier about some of these really complex ships getting their equivalent of a 20,000-mile service. Well, as part of the, you know, continuing resolution in the sequestration limitations, so reducing that -- the navy's budget by about $9 billion, what they're going to be unable to do is take that depot level maintenance, that 20,000-mile service for all of -- pretty much all of their ships and their aircraft for the third and fourth quarters of fiscal year 13.

  • 13:31:50

    LAGRONEThat's going to have a really damaging effect as you try to get to the ultimate lifespan of all of these ships. And then if you don't do that preventative maintenance, more stuff is going to break while you're underway and that's less materials and less forces that you can have to go and do the missions that you're assigned. There's a concept that a lot of people have talked about during this whole sequestration discussion of the hollow force. And that's an idea that goes back to the Vietnam War where you have, you know, army divisions. They're essentially divisions in name only because...

  • 13:32:25

    BROWNThey don't really exist.

  • 13:32:27

    LAGRONEThey don't really exist but, you know, you have militaries on paper. And militaries on paper don't win wars. You have to be able to have the men and material to be able to do that. And this is prompting all sorts of other discussions. Well how much does the U.S. need to be in the world? How much do they need to be able to perform all of these missions? Is there a criteria to scale back? And that's a conversation that's happening right now.

  • 13:32:56

    LAGRONEBut the big frustration that the military will tell you that they're having is that they're making all of these decisions really quickly. And it's not in a way that's allowing them to really think out these decisions.

  • 13:33:11

    BROWNSo they're basically being backed into a very large policy and strategy discussion by a legislative spat in congress over immediate budget priorities and longer term budget priorities that are almost, in a sense, being held hostage to the immediate decisions.

  • 13:33:29

    LAGRONEI think that's a fine way of putting it.

  • 13:33:30

    BROWNYeah. It's been great to have you with us. I'm sure that this issue will continue under discussion, whether or not the sequestration happens at the end of the week. We have been talking with Sam LaGrone. He is the editor for U.S.N.I. News for the U.S. Naval Institute. And thank you all for your calls on this topic. I'm Paul Brown sitting in for Kojo. This is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" on WAMU 88.5.

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