- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

With military concern about budget cuts set to hit the Pentagon and federal government March 1 reaching a crescendo, the Navy is prepared to ground the famous squadron for the second half of the 2013, according to an internal Navy memo.

The memo and an accompanying slide show, sent out by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert last week, show plans to cut all funding for the Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron and the country’s oldest flying aerobatic team.

Canceling the 30 shows scheduled for that time frame would produce a meager savings of $20 million, but it would also shut down one of its top recruiting tools. The Blue Angels website estimates that 11 million people attend their shows each year.

President Obama is set to deliver a statement Tuesday asking Congress to pass a bill to avert the spending cuts, stressing that the scheduled cuts would hurt the Pentagon and the still-faltering economy. Defense analysts estimate that the cuts could cost the economy 2 million jobs in the defense industry and other sectors.

Grounding the Blue Angels is systemic of more serious cuts the Navy plans to make if the sequester takes hold at the beginning of next month.

According to Adm. Greenert’s memo, dated Jan. 25, the Navy is already making cuts because of Congress’s failure to pass its spending bills last year, and is facing an additional $4 billion in cuts for fiscal year 2013 if Congress doesn’t reach a deal to avoid the sequester by March 1.

“To the extent that such an action, which reduces unit readiness, is irreversible, unit commanders will notify the first Flag in the operational chain of command for further review,” Adm. Greenert wrote in the memo.

If Congress can’t reach a deal in the next few weeks, the Navy is prepared to stop deployments to the Caribbean and South American, limit European deployments to only those supporting ballistic missile defense missions, reduce the number of ships and aircraft deployed and reduce the number of days at sea and flying hours across the entire force, according to the memo.

In addition, the Navy would stop training, flying and other operations for the majority of ships and aircraft preparing to deploy, “unless funded by Fleet Commander’s proposed offsets.” Adm. Greenert said the Navy also would consider the possibility of civilian furloughs of up to 22 days.

Because of spending cuts already in place, beginning Feb. 15, the Navy canceled all private sector ship and aircraft maintenance contracts, has frozen the hiring of civilians, and has ordered base support personnel to be reduced by 10 percent and stopped dozens of construction and maintenance projects for piers, runways, buildings, barracks and other facilities.

The Navy is also reducing travel for commanders and officers for conferences and training and cutting budgets for recreational activities.

• Susan Crabtree can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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