A senior House Republican on Tuesday challenged the Obama administration on what he said were shortfalls in funding the Navy's programs to maintain the fleet.
"Our Navy already has insufficient resources to preserve its current fleet, let alone reverse the trend of years of underfunding," said Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee.
Mr. Forbes said less than half of the Navy's deployed aircraft were combat ready, and more than 20 percent of all Navy vessels ranked below satisfactory by inspection teams, with repairs requiring parts taken from other ships.
Two witnesses at a hearing on Navy readiness, Vice Adm. William Burke, head of fleet readiness, and Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, acknowledged that the current defense budget does not provide what the Navy needs.
"Im not happy," Adm. Burke said. "The decision that was made was based on other priorities, and ship maintenance came up short."
The budget authorizes $5 billion for ship maintenance, and the Pentagon requested an additional $367 million for improvements to 44 ships.
Mr. Forbes warned that the growing Chinese navy could pose a threat to the United States ability to operate throughout the world.
"I am very disturbed because over the horizon I see our adversaries continuing to expand their military might, while a masthead of a $400 billion cut to national defense is looming," he said.
The hearing came a day after a meeting between Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chen Bingde, in which the general suggested that the U.S. cut its defense spending because of budgetary concerns.
Despite funding shortfalls, the admirals testified that the current maintenance program will improve Navy readiness.
"Were moving in the right direction," Adm. McCoy said, "but we have to stay the course."
One key measure, Adm. McCoy said, is intensified inspections of non-nuclear ships after deployments. The inspections led to increased maintenance costs and also extended the operating lives of many aging vessels.
Adm. McCoy said the USS Enterprise, a 49-year-old aircraft carrier that was the first with nuclear power, is an example of extending ship life through maintenance.
The Enterprise completed a $650 million refit in 2010 that extended its service life until 2013, when it will be decommissioned and eventually replaced by the new USS Gerald R. Ford.
Another stress on the Navy is the failure to replace aging aircraft, Adm. Burke said.
"The delay in the arrival of the F-35 has been costly," he said. "We've had to add hours to legacy aircraft," referring to planes approaching 6,000 hours.
"We think we can get even more," he said, "but there's only so far you can go."
Navy resources are taxed because of the large number of ships deployed around the world. Adm. McCoy said the current 40 percent deployment rate "is not sustainable over time."
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