Looming threat of sequestration keeps Navy ships bound for Persian Gulf in port

Joint Chiefs head to Capitol Hill next week to testify on sequestration consequences

In one of the first visible effects on force readiness of the looming threat of across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to go into effect next month, the  Defense Department has delayed the deployment of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman and USS Gettysburg to the Persian Gulf.

The two vessels were secheduled to depart Norfolk, Va., this week for the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

The "sequestration," as the cuts are known, is scheduled to take place March 1 unless Congress overrides the provision built into budget law that would mean cutting $52 billion from the defense budget by Sept. 30, in the first round of continuing cuts that will span the next decade.

The Navy sent a request for the delayed deployment to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and he approved it, reports National Review Online. The decision enables the Navy to maintain these ships to deploy on short notice in the event they are needed to respond to national security contingencies.

The United States has maintained two carrier groups in the Persian Gulf since 2010 becaues of increased tensions with Iran, the story said. However, at this time only the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis will be on watch. It is scheduled to be relieved by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower later this year.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met with reporters on Feb. 6 to discuss the approaching budget storm and brief them on the rationale for delaying the deployment of the USS Harry S. Truman, reports the American Forces Press Service.

“This won’t be the last adjustment we will make to our global presence,” Dempsey said, referring to the decision to keep the two ships in Norfolk. “It is our first, because the deployment is imminent.” With the action, the department is trying to preserve readiness as long as possible."

“We’re trying to stretch our readiness out by keeping this particular carrier in homeport in our global response force, so if something happens elsewhere in the world, we can respond to it,” Dempsey added. “Had we deployed it and ‘consumed’ that readiness, we could have created a situation where downstream we wouldn’t have a carrier present in certain parts of the world at all.”

But make no mistake about it,” Dempsey continued. "This is the first adjustment of what will be a series of adjustments across the services as we try to preserve our readiness for as long as possible.”

The Defense Department will take another shot at trying to convince lawmakers that it is in the best interests of U.S. national defense to avoid sequestration when the Joint Chiefs visit Capitol Hill to testify in two hearings on sequestration, reports Defense News.

The Joint Chiefs are scheduled to testify before the House and Senate armed services committees on Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, respectively, the story said.

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