The US Navy's unfunded list for 2015 included 22 EA-18G Growler aircraft. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — Although titled an “unfunded priority list,” the US Navy’s document giving Congress options to add to the 2015 budget is neither prioritized, nor a list of unfunded programs.
Rather, it is largely a list of programs and endeavors that suffered cuts as the Pentagon strove to reduce spending across hundreds of areas, with funding amounts reflecting what it would take to get those areas back to previously-planned levels. Defense News obtaineda copy of the list.
There are some key exceptions — the single most expensive item, $2.14 billion for 22 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft — is a request for planes beyond current requirements.
The second-largest cost item is to reprogram purchases of the P-8A Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft. The Navy wants $1.1 billion to double the amount of planes purchased in 2015 from eight to 16, although the total number of aircraft bought through 2019 would not change.
Most strikingly, there is no mention in the list of funding to refuel the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington, nor to keep its strike group or air wing operating. Debate has shifted back and forth over whether to include the carrier in the unfunded list, and Navy sources confirmed that the carrier was on the list in mid-March.
Internal changes to the lists have continued to virtually the last minute, vexing the military services.
“The frustration of the services comes from the lack of communication and the back-and-forth decision-making from the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” said one defense official.
But, as explained by Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, in his cover letter accompanying the report, the carrier “transcends FY 2015 — it is a Future Year Defense Program (FYDP) requirement” covering several years.
“Retaining this aircraft carrier would require $7 billion across our FYDP,” Greenert wrote. “Thus, the decision to refuel or inactivate [the ship] is dependent upon the fiscal outlook in FY 2016 and beyond, and whether we will be forced to return to sequestration levels.”
Previously, the Navy has said it would need $796 million in the 2015 budget in advanced procurement to refuel the George Washington and operate its strike group, but the entire overhaul of the carrier would approach $4 billion.
Navy leaders have adamantly maintained they wish to keep the carrier in service, viewing the issue purely as one of funding.
“Congress has legally required the Navy to maintain an 11 aircraft carrier fleet, and the administration’s efforts to forego the USS George Washington’s (CVN 73) refueling shows an intent to ignore the will of Congress,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Seapower subcommittee, said in a statement. “I remain concerned, as well, that the Navy is refusing to execute funds appropriated for this fiscal year that would allow it to perform the work needed to allow CVN 73 to reach its full service life. I will continue working to restore funding for CVN 73 and to ensure that our Navy retains the carrier force it requires to protect American national security interests.”
The list, explained Lt. Rob Myers, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, “includes items not fully funded in this year’s budget request. These items are meant to accelerate readiness and restore shortfalls from fiscal years 2013 and 2014.”
Overall, there are few, if any, surprises on the list, with many of the cuts already having been discussed.
Together, the P-8A and EA-18G aircraft programs comprise $3.27 billion of the Navy’s requests under the modernization category. The other 77 items under that category come only to $1.9 billion. Items range in cost from $1 million to $190 million.
Items are also listed under the categories of Maintenance, Afloat Readiness, Critical Spares, Shore Readiness and Manpower and Training.
Altogether, the Navy’s unfunded list totals $10.6 billion, highest of the armed services.
The Navy’s list appears difficult to understand without prioritization or further explanation, several Congressional sources said.
“At first glance, I thought the priorities were the ordering of the bullets. But on reading further, I agree this is difficult to understand without further guidance,” said one congressional source. “Maintenance might be a higher priority than modernization, but is the last item on the maintenance list really a higher priority than the first item on modernization? Or pick any two categories the same way.
“The letter is not clear, so if I were on the Hill, my first question to the service would be: If I have $1 billion to spend, where should it go?”
Another source agreed.
“Look at all the dinky stuff!” said the second congressional source, reacting to a myriad of relatively low-cost items and programs. “This is small potatoes. I don’t know that they’ve ever had so many small items as this on an unfunded list.”
A third Hill observer agreed with the lack of order.
“It just encourages a feeding frenzy. People can pick and choose depending on their parochial interests.” ■