The U.S. Navy is re-evaluating its goal of a 355-ship fleet as the Pentagon shifts to meet increased competition with Russia and China, the service’s top officer said Friday.
“In light of the new National Defense Strategy and changes in the security environment since that was put out, we’re doing a new force structure assessment,” Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, told reporters at the Pentagon. “We’ll see where that goes.”
The Navy set its sights on a fleet of 355 warships — up from the current 287 — in late 2016. But analysts and critics were quick to point out that a swift buildup is financially unfeasible.
“If the Navy adheres to the schedule for retiring ships outlined in the 2019 plan, it would not meet its goal of 355 ships at any time over the next 30 years,” the Congressional Budget Office said in an October 2018 report.
Even if the service decides to extend the life of some existing ships and submarines, the fleet would not hit 355 ships until 2034, CBO wrote.
On Thursday, Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the goal into question. He also said aircraft carriers and amphibious warships do not fit into the strategy.
“Fully implementing the National Defense Strategy means you’ll need tradeoffs,” Harrison said. “Things have to go. The 355-ship Navy is out the window if you want to implement the plan.”
Richardson said the fleet must still grow, even if the service lowers the goal — or changes its definition of “warship.”
“I will tell you, the security environment has only gotten more sporty,” the admiral said. “We’ll take that into account. Technology is starting to come to play, so what counts as a naval platform is going to be an interesting discussion in this new force structure assessment.”
That technology includes the Navy’s experiments with unmanned submarines large and small. Right now, unmanned ships do not count toward the 355-ship goal.
“We want to make sure that we are moving forward in a very deliberate way — in an evidence-based way — so that we’re not counting on something that hasn’t been relatively proven when it comes to the security of the nation,” Richardson said. “We also want to make sure we’re moving fast so that we don’t get disrupted or beaten.”
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