Navy’s financial pivot to Pacific

U.S. Navy admirals take comfort in the Pacific pivot while their sister services nervously await the fallout from slashes to planned defense spending.

As their service turns 237 years old, U.S. Navy leaders can walk the Pentagon’s halls with a different sense of confidence than their sister services as the dark cloud of severe cuts to planned defense spending hover on the horizon.

Ever since the Obama administration released the new defense strategy featuring a pivot out of the Middle East and toward the Pacific, the Navy has known it will have a special ace in the hole when it comes to reigning in defense spending that has ballooned the past ten years to fight two land wars.

“We see a central role for the U.S. Navy in that strategy,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

The Army is the service struggling to define its future after ten years of growth to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army leaders know their force structure will shrink and they’re trying to set its service up for the forthcoming cuts.

Army generals have tried to crash the Pacific party by promoting potential training missions with Pacific partners. The Navy quickly counters with the millions of miles of ocean covering the Pacific.

It’s clear Navy admirals don’t worry, and probably would encourage, the election of Mitt Romney after he has spelled out his plans to expand the Navy to 350 ships to include building three submarines to support a pivot to the Pacific. He went further explaining his plans to build an 11th aircraft carrier wing and keep production of the F/A-18 Super Hornet running past 2014.

“We would almost immediately reverse the Obama decision to stop production of the F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2014. We think it’s essential to keep the F-18s in production, as well as the F-35,” John Lehman, one of Romney’s top advisers and former Navy secretary, told Defense News.

Loren Thompson, a defense industrial analyst for Lexington Institute, questions how a Romney administration plans to pay for such a boost. He questions if steps such as “early stabilization of engineering requirements, cutbacks in unneeded staff, and greater reliance on competition to discipline pricing” would fit the bloated bill.

“Such steps would barely begin to cover all the increased costs entailed by the plan,” Thompson wrote.

Of course, the Navy’s budget could grow with each menacing pass made by Chinese ships in the Pacific near the sets of disputed islands that have raised tensions in the region with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The Navy plans to shift 60 percent of their fleet to the Pacific by 2020. U.S. 3rd Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Gerald R. Beaman explained the importance of growing the fleet in that process in order to maintain support in the Atlantic.

He can count on support from the Pentagon despite the threat of a $500 billion cut to defense spending over the next 10 years spurred by sequestration.The Navy has the Pacific pivot in play.