Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has warned Congress that a three month continuing resolution – a stop-gap funding measure signed by President Donald Trump as part of a hurricane relief package – will have a significant impact on military readiness.
Among other effects, maintenance periods for 11 Navy vessels will be delayed, which will push back maintenance on the other ships that are next in line. "The shipyards' capacity is not capable of 'catching up' lost work," Mattis wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders. "The funding shortfalls result in delays in Naval vessel availability, which may affect subsequent deployment rotations."
The list of vessels directly affected by the delay is heavy on guided missile cruisers and destroyers, the Navy's front-line surface combatants. The 11 ships are the USS Kidd, Pinckney, Oscar Austin, James E. Williams, Mahan, Coronado, Port Royal, Princeton, Vella Gulf, San Diego and Carter Hall.
Exercises and training will also be affected across all service branches, Mattis warned. "Impacts begin immediately, within the first 30 days of a CR. By 90 days, the lost training is irrecoverable due to subsequent scheduled training events," he wrote. In addition to training cutbacks, the Navy will also reduce flying hours and steaming days for non-deployed units, and will postpone replenishment of spares across the non-deployed fleet.
Further, the continuing resolution means that the Department of Defense is not authorized to start large construction projects, which would have been included in a full budget authorization. This means that "no new major military construction projects can be initiated . . . with an inevitable delay in project schedules." 37 projects for the Navy will be pushed back.
The timing of the budget limitations is particularly poor for the Navy, which has come under scrutiny for its training practices and long rotations after two deadly ship collisions earlier this year. The vessels involved – the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain – lacked many of their warfighting certifications, due in part to high-tempo operations and in part to a lack of a formal training program.
The letter was in response to an inquiry from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator McCain was one of 17 senators who voted against the continuing resolution, which included a $15 billion relief package for Hurricane Harvey and an increase in the national debt limit. McCain sharply criticized Congress for enacting a continuing resolution rather than an adequate, formal budget for the military. "Is that a lot to ask? Stable, predictable funding, and provided on time?" he said. "While the president and this Congress understand that the military does have a need for additional funding to rebuild . . . we are asking them to keep treading water for three months."