U.S. to cut carrier fleet in Persian Gulf to one
BY LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press
Thursday, February 07, 2013
2/07/13 at 6:24 AM
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon is cutting its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one, the Defense Department said Wednesday, in a move that represents one of the most significant effects of budget cuts on the U.S. military presence overseas. The decision comes as Washington struggles to find a way to avoid sharp automatic spending cuts set to strike the Pentagon and domestic programs next month.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has approved keeping just one carrier in the Persian Gulf region. The U.S. has maintained two aircraft carrier groups in the Gulf for most of the last two years.
Panetta has been leading a campaign to replace the automatic cuts he warns would "hollow out" the military, and the Pentagon has been providing greater details on the cuts it would have to make if Congress fails to both replace them and agree on a 2013 defense budget bill. The carrier decision is one of the most significant made thus far.
Plans for the USS Harry S Truman to deploy to the Gulf later this week have been canceled. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, brought home to Norfolk, Va., from the Gulf in December for the resurfacing of its flight deck and other maintenance, will return later this month and stay until about summer. The USS John C. Stennis will leave the Gulf and return home after the Eisenhower arrives.
Pentagon press secretary George Little issued a statement Wednesday confirming the carrier decision.
Little said the Navy asked Panetta to delay the deployments of the Truman and the USS Gettysburg, a guided-missile cruiser, because of budget uncertainty.
"This prudent decision enables the U.S. Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies," Little said, adding that the U.S. will maintain "robust military presence."
The Navy said reducing the carrier presence in the Gulf will save several hundred million dollars, including spending on fuel for ships and the carrier's air wing, food and other supplies.
On Tuesday, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Howard P. "Buck'' McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called an Obama administration proposal to replace automatic spending cuts scheduled March 1 with a short-term fix ''neither responsible nor balanced.''
"America's military has absorbed $487 billion in defense cuts under President Obama, with $500 billion yet to come with sequestration,'' they said in urging a solution that does not ''do unprecedented harm to our military.''
In 2010, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved a formal directive to keep two carrier groups in the Gulf amid escalating tensions with Iran. It has been part of a U.S. show of force in the region, particularly in an effort to ensure that the critical Strait of Hormuz remains open to naval traffic.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the strategic waterway, which is the transit route for about a fifth of the world's oil supply, in retaliation for increased Western-led sanctions.
The Pentagon blamed the decision on budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year spending as well as the threat of across-the-board automatic budget cuts that will be triggered if Congress doesn't act to stop them by the beginning of March.
Original Print Headline: Navy carrier deployment a casualty of budget cuts
The USS Harry S. Truman will not deploy to the Persian Gulf as planned, the Secretary of the Navy announced Thursday afternoon. STEPHEN M. KATZ/The Virginian-Pilot/Associated Press
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., (right) and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard ''Buck'' McKeon, R-Calif., confer Wednesday at the Capitol after a session discussing the looming budget cuts known as sequestration that will slash Pentagon spending next month unless Congress intervenes. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/Associated Press