- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2014

An outspoken California lawmaker wants Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to forgo his plan to ban tobacco sales from Navy bases and ships and refocus on the acquisition needs of the financially wayward military service.

Rep. Duncan Hunter said in a March 28 letter to Mr. Mabus that removing tobacco sales from Navy installations would simply distract the military from its “far more immediate priorities.”

Mr. Hunter, a Republican, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, which has the ability to embrace or push back against the Pentagon’s fiscal decisions.

The Navy Times reported earlier this week that the Navy planned to curb tobacco sales as part of an overarching plan to improve the culture and fitness of the Navy and Marine Corps. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty confirmed to The Navy Times that the military service has been discussing its tobacco sales, however, no decision has been made.

Mr. Hunter said in his letter that halting tobacco sales on military installations is “a political decision” that should be postponed until far more concerning Navy matters have been resolved. Mr. Hunter’s spokesman, Joe Kasper, told The Washington Times that the congressman wants to send a message to the Navy that such priorities as budget and equipment concerns should take precedence over other, minuscule issues.

“The Marine Corps doesn’t have enough [amphibious warships], and the Navy not enough ships, among many other issues, and yet the Secretary of the Navy is making a point to prohibit tobacco sales,” Mr. Kasper said. “That’s not going to help with the Asia pivot, nor will it do anything to improve readiness — so then why signal it’s a priority? Like many other things — the military services seem to be a staging ground for a political agenda and that’s something that’s been plainly evident under [the Obama] administration.”

As part of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget plan, the Marine Corps will see a delay on the purchase of amphibious combat vehicles, which would assist marines in getting from the ship to shore. The budget request also slices in half two of the Navy’s most troubled acquisition programs: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the littoral combat ship.

National Defense Magazine reports that the Navy requested the purchase of 36 F-35Cs, a 33-jet reduction from the 69 originally planned. In addition, the littoral combat ship will be reduced from 52 ships to 32. The program will then be reevaluated, prior to the Fiscal Year 2016 budget submission, according to National Defense Magazine.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rolled out the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget request on March 4.

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