MAYPORT -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is warning that the Pentagon may have to mothball up to three Navy aircraft carriers and order more sharp reductions in the size of the Army and Marine Corps if Congress doesn't act to avoid massive budget cuts beginning in 2014.
"This nation will not be able to respond the way it has been expected to over the last 50 years," said Ret. Navy Adm. Robert Natter.
Natter says our nation's military is now defending itself from a different foe: Washington budget cuts.
The move to mothball means those ships will be kept operational but won't see any action.
Natter says sidelining ships may save money now, but ultimately puts our national security at risk. "The idea of saving short term money for long term impact and suffering is short-sided and really, really stupid."
Natter fears the move will also delay the arrival of three amphibious ships to Naval Station Mayport.
It's unsettling news for Mike Whalen, longtime owner of Specialty Marine & Industrial Supplies, a marine industrial hardware store for the U.S. Navy located in Atlantic Beach.
"Fewer sailors means less business for everybody," said Whalen. "The food service business, the haircut people, the insurance people... just go down Mayport Road and see all the for lease signs and the closed shops and it's only going to get worse."
Jacksonville has kept a nuclear aircraft carrier on its wish list for years, which is something Natter, a local military insider, says is now a long shot.
"Well, we would not see a nuclear aircraft carrier down here if we were to layup three carriers," said Natter.
Hagel told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the full result of the sweeping budget cuts over the next 10 years could leave the nation with an ill-prepared, under-equipped military doomed to face more technologically advanced enemies.
In his starkest terms to date, Hagel laid out a worst-case scenario for the U.S. military if the Pentagon is forced is forced to slash more than $50 billion from the 2014 budget and $500 billion over the next 10 years as a result of congressionally mandated automatic spending cuts.
Action News reached out to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson who said, "This is the most idiotic way to go about appropriating money, especially for the national security and defense of this country... Ideology is getting in the way of common sense."
Action News also requested comment from officials at Naval Station Mayport, but our call has not been returned.