NORFOLK – Hampton Roads could temporarily lose the services of one local Navy fighter squadron, thanks to sequestration.
“The Blue Blasters” (VFA-34) could be temporarily grounded as part of the Navy's plan to “shut-down” Carrier Air Wing Two based in Lemoore, California. VFA-34 is assigned to that air wing. The Navy insists VFA-34 would not be decommissioned or disestablished, but the squadron’s flying operations could be grounded during this fiscal year until the budget situation is resolved.
That is just one of numerous cost-cutting moves announced over the weekend by the Navy. One vaguely worded portion of the plan calls for the Navy to “cancel or defer the deployments of up to six ships to various areas of responsibility throughout the month of April.” The message from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus does not specify which ships, if any, are based in Hampton Roads.
The only new item defers the deployment of the USNS Comfort to South America for the “Continuing Promise” humanitarian mission. The hospital ship arrived in Norfolk, its new home port, last Friday, hours before sequestration took effect.
Other previously-announced steps are deferring maintenance on USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Porter; delaying the deployment of USS Harry S. Truman; reducing training for non-deploying units; imposing a civilian hiring freeze and starting civilian furloughs.
In the meantime, the Navy announced a long list of sweeping changes that will impact the fleet outside Hampton Roads. They include shutting down Carrier Air Wing Two at Lemoore, California, cancelling Blue Angels performances for the month of April in other parts of the country and reducing advertising.
Starting in April, the Navy will gradually stand down at least four air wings, said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday.
Sequestration is clipping the wings of the Air Force, too.
“Effective immediately, Air Force flying hours will be cut back,” Hagel said. “This will have a major impact on training and readiness.”
The Army will curtail training for all units except those deploying to Afghanistan, he said, noting that this means an end to training for nearly 80 percent of Army operational units.
“Later this month, we intend to issue preliminary notifications to thousands of civilian employees who will be furloughed,” Hagel stated.
Many of the Defense Department's approximately 800,000 civilian employees face losing 20 percent of their pay through the end of September.
Sequestration comes on top of $487 billion in cuts defense agreed to under the Budget Control Act.
All this talk of shutdowns and layoffs is concerning to local business owners in Hampton Roads, who already operate on thin profit margins. Chris Peterson has run Crossroad Cleaners in Chesapeake and he says he’s worried.
“It’s going to have a major impact and especially on this industry here,” Peterson said.
Click here for 13News special section on Sequestration in Hampton Roads.