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U.S. Navy, Marine Corps acquisition plans hit by sequester

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (2nd L) holds his first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Jo
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (2nd L) holds his first meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Jo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Top officials from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps told lawmakers on Tuesday that across-the-board budget cuts in fiscal 2013 and 2014 would reduce readiness and cut heavily into their procurement and research and development programs.

Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said budget requests required under sequestration had cut about $6.1 billion, or 8 percent, from the Navy's investment programs in fiscal year 2013, which ends September 30.

He said those cuts would likely result in reductions in the numbers of weapons and aircraft the Navy would be able to buy, including one E-2D Hawkeye battle management aircraft built by Northrop Grumman Corp, one F-35C carrier fighter built by Lockheed Martin Corp, one P-8A maritime surveillance plane built by Boeing Co, and two unmanned Fire Scout helicopters, also built by Northrop.

Cuts in ship construction funds would lead to changes in current shipbuilding timelines, shifting some costs to future years, which could lead to cancellations of future ship procurements, Greenert told the House Armed Services Committee.

U.S. weapons makers and shipbuilders, including General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Corp are keeping a close watch on the protracted budget battles between Congress and the White House for signs of possible cuts in orders.

The White House's fiscal 2014 budget request included some additional cuts to the Pentagon budget beyond the $487 billion in cuts already being implemented over the next decade, but did not reflect the full $500 billion in additional reduction required by sequestration cuts.

Future cuts to procurement and R&D accounts would be unavoidable if Congress failed to avert additional mandatory cuts in fiscal 2014, Greenert said.

The Navy's fiscal 2014 budget request asked for $44 billion to buy and develop new ships, submarines, manned and unmanned aircraft, weapons, cyber and other programs.

Greenert said the Navy already faced a combined operations and maintenance shortfall of $9 billion in fiscal 2014, but if lawmakers did not act to remove the sequestration cuts, the shortfall would grow to $23 billion.

The cuts would potentially trim the Navy's fleet of warships to around 250, from just over 280 today, he said.

Marine Corps Commandant James Amos told the committee that there was "no slack" in the Marine Corps' budget, and further cuts in fiscal 2014 would strain the already stretched force.

He said the Marines remained committed to buying F-35 B-model fighters, noting that the current fleet of older Boeing F/A-18 fighters were increasingly time consuming and expensive to maintain. By the end of the year, he said about 50 percent of those planes would be in depot-level maintenance, which meant they would not be available for training or missions.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the Navy also remained committed to its plan to buy 52 new Littoral Combat Ships built by Lockheed Martin and Australia's Austal.

He said LCS was "one of our very best programs", meeting cost, schedule and weapons requirements.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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