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Biden cuts 15 Navy warships in new budget proposal

The Carl Vinson strike group operates with the Ronald Reagan strike group, June 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate/Released)
March 29, 2022

President Joe Biden’s proposed defense budget for the 2023 fiscal year includes funding to build nine new warships but cut 24 existing warships – a net 15 ship loss.

The Biden administration published its proposed budget on Monday, outlining $773 billion total discretionary funding for the Department of Defense.

In a Monday press briefing, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said the cuts to the fleet would include five cruisers, nine littoral combat ships (LCS), four landing dock ships, two submarines, two oilers and two expeditionary transfer docks.

The budget provides $28 billion for building nine new ships. Gumbleton said 56 percent of that amount goes towards new nuclear-powered warships, including continued work on two Ford-class aircraft carriers and two new Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines. Other ships include two new destroyers, a frigate, an amphibious landing ship, an oiler and a salvage ship.

Inflation is a factor in the budget decisions for the Navy. Gumbleton said the high costs for new Ford and Virginia-class vessels forced the Navy to look for other ways to cover the costs for modernizing the rest of its warships.

“A piece of that was our choice going after decommissioning vessels that were very expensive to maintain,” Gumbleton said.

Gumbleton said decommissioning the 24 warships would provide the service $3.6 billion in savings that it can apply to future budgets. He said the projected savings are “not an insignificant number.”

During a separate Monday press conference, Department of Defense Chief Financial Officer and Comptroller Michael McCord said, “There’s a slight decrease in the Navy also, with retirement of some ships” but “overall, you’re seeing a very flat picture, for the most part, of where we expect to end this year.”

The proposed budget would bring the number of U.S. Navy ships down to 285 during the 2023 fiscal year, down from 297 in the 2022 fiscal year. This continues a trend that has seen the overall number of Navy ships shrink in recent years. The trend of shrinking fleet sizes comes even as the Navy has discussed shipbuilding goals in recent years that would expand the fleet to around 355 ships by 2030.

China has already overtaken the U.S. as the nation with the highest number of ships, with around 350 ships as of 2020. While China has fewer major vessels, like aircraft carriers, U.S. defense officials assessed in 2020 that China’s fleet includes over 130 major surface combatant vessels.

Along with lowering the overall number of warships, the Biden administration’s proposed budget includes 96 new aircraft, but no additional F/A-18 Super Hornets and fewer new carrier-capable F-35s than in the last fiscal year.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticized Biden’s proposed budget, saying the spending increases are not sufficient to address the threats the U.S. currently faces.

“President Biden’s defense budget reflects the world he wishes for — but not the world as it is,” Inhofe said. “You simply can’t look at the world around us now and think this budget is adequate to confront all the threats we face, let alone to accelerate our attempts to maintain or restore deterrence and secure U.S. interests for our children and grandchildren.”

Inhofe said Biden’s budget doesn’t sufficiently address inflation in the U.S. economy.

“Real growth — 5 percent above inflation — is what we need if we are to meet this moment,” Inhofe said.