Thousands of active-duty sailors' jobs are set to be downsized in fiscal year 2017 via sailor's normal separations and retirements, dimming what had been a rosy personnel outlook.
The unexpectedly steep cuts will reduce 5,300 billets from current levels by October 2017, according to defense officials familiar with the Navy's proposal, who said the end strength drop runs in tandem with some proposed force reductions to be unveiled with the full budget proposal on Tuesday.
The officials said the down-sizing to the lower end strength of 322,900 billets, if approved by Congress, would be managed through natural attrition and dropping accessions. They emphasized that the service isn't planning any separation boards to meet the numbers.
Personnel officials are also going to try and save some billets by streamlining training, one official said. The service has had issues with having too many sailors holed up in barracks waiting to start training like "A" school. By cutting down on the number of sailors “awaiting training,” as it's known, who aren't manning billets in the fleet, it can eliminate some end-strength needs.
The Navy brought back the early-out program for sailors in over-manned ratings and year groups in 2014. As of October, the Navy was offering more than 750 early outs, which is double what was offered in 2014.
The proposed cuts in 2017 greatly exceed the projected cuts from last year's budget by about 3,600 jobs. Officials said last year that the projected dip in end strength in 2017 was to account for the crews of 11 cruisers to be parked pierside for long-term modernization overhauls.
The cruisers Cowpens and Gettysburg were both put into modernization in 2015 and are now manned with skeleton crews of 45 sailors led by a lieutenant commander. Cruisers Chosin and Vicksburg are slated to go into modernization in 2016t, as well as a dock landing ship.
The cruiser phased-modernization plan is designed to keep these vessels in the fleet longer by putting them into a lay-up pierside. That gives the Navy more time to design and build replacements for the fleet's premier surface combatant, one often called to ride shotgun with the aircraft carrier as the air defense commander.
But lawmakers, including Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Virginia, have been skeptical of the plan, believing it could be a backdoor means for the service to prematurely retire the ships to save money.