Empire’s Navy Admits It Is Far Too Profligate to Reach Goal of 355 Ships, Might Get to 310
Blames lack of funds but we all know that's not where the problem lies
A top Navy official suggested today the service is reconsidering its long-stated goal of a 355-ship fleet, floating the idea that a number around 310 ships would be about the best it can do if current funding projections hold.
Without big increases in shipbuilding accounts over the current five-year budget projection, “we can keep around 305 to 310 ships whole — properly manned, properly maintained, properly equipped,” Navy vice chief Adm. Robert Burke told reporters today. Although a 355-ship Navy “is a great target for us, it’s more important that we have the maximum capability to address every challenge that we might face,” he added.
As it stands now, the Navy has 290 ships, and will hit 300 by next fall, but as Navy leadership tries to build more ships, it has to confront two significant problems: keeping the ships it has in good condition, and wrestling with what are expected to be flat or declining budgets in the coming years. Only about 30 percent of the Navy’s destroyer fleet can leave port on time after repairs, while six of the service’s 11 aircraft carriers are in dock under repair, including the USS Harry S. Truman, which was supposed to deploy to the Middle East last month but has been hobbled by electrical problems.
The Truman can’t relieve the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier in the Middle East, forcing the Navy to extend the big deck’s 7-month deployment. “She’s just over eight months now,” Burke said in the Navy’s first confirmation of the extended deployment, “because the world gets a vote.”
During a Wednesday hearing on Navy readiness, Rep. John Garamendi, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee readiness subcommittee, warned the service’s top acquisition official, “if you cannot take care of a 290 ship fleet, so maybe you shouldn’t build more.”
Burke’s comments appear to offer a peek into the new force structure assessment the Navy and Marine Corps are currently working on, slated to wrap up by the end of the year. The two services want to more fully integrate their operations and spending, allowing the Marines to support the fleet from land using precision fires and F-35s based on small, ad hoc bases.
Burke didn’t close the door on the larger fleet size, which was a major talking point for President Trump on the campaign trail in 2016. “It’s not to say we won’t getting 355, but some tough decisions need to be made,” Burke said, citing concerns over the Navy’s ability to repair ships on time and get them back out to sea. “On readiness, are we there yet, are we exactly where we want to be or should be? No.”
Part of the problem has been years of continuing resolutions passed by Congress in lieu of full yearly budgets. Those have affected operations and maintenance budgets.
Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Navy would have to spend an extra $200 billion over its current estimated shipbuilding budget over the next 30 years to reach a 355-ship fleet, ballooning yearly shipbuilding accounts by 31 percent.
The growing federal deficit will also put a major squeeze on the Navy — and the Pentagon’s — plans. The deficit for 2019 grew to $984 billion, or 4.7 percent of GDP, the highest since 2012, the CBO estimated this week in a separate analysis. That’s a full 26 percent higher than the 2018 deficit and 48 percent above 2017.
When it comes to the force structure assessment, the final number of ships in the fleet continues to be something of a jump ball.
Col. Brian Magnuson, head of the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office, told a Marine conference last month that it’s unclear how many ships the Navy and Marines will need until the force structure plan is done and is war gamed. Specifically, the number of amphibious ships carrying Marines and their gear “could be 18, it could be 138 – I just don’t know,” he said.
Source: Breaking Defense