Navy proposes cutbacks to meet budget restrictions


WASHINGTON -- The Navy has proposed slashing its current 452-vessel fleet to 340 ships and scaling back purchases of expensive next-generation attack aircraft in an effort to meet rapidly tightening budgetary restrictions in the post-Cold War world.

The plan has been presented to Defense Secretary Les Aspin as part of the "bottom-up review" of U.S. defense strategy that he is conducting for the fiscal 1995 Pentagon budget.

Mr. Aspin has not reacted to the Navy proposal and is not expected to decide on specific elements until the overall defense review is well under way. As part of the process, the Army and Air Force are slated to suggest new cutbacks of their own.

The Navy plan would maintain the current 12 aircraft carriers but would eliminate more than 35 submarines between now and 1999, as well as make significant cuts in frigates, amphibious warfare ships and other vessels.

It also calls for phasing out all of the Navy's aging A-6 bombers and for purchasing fewer of the proposed F/A-18E/F aircraft -- designed as a replacement for the A-6 and the F-14 fighter plane -- than had been envisioned.

Strategists said the plan, considered bold by any standard, was intended to carry out the new post-Cold War mission that the Navy adopted last fall, calling for less emphasis on patrolling the high seas and more stress on coastal operations, as in Somalia.

But Vice Adm. Leighton W. Smith, deputy chief of naval operations for plans and policies, conceded that at least part of the Navy's motivation in accepting other cuts was to enable it "to protect to the degree we can" its current fleet of 12 carriers.

"What we did is we nailed '12' on the wall and then said, 'OK, what do we have to cut out in order to hold those 12?' " he said.

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