Why the United States Needs a 355-Ship Navy Now

One of President Trump’s signature campaign promises to the American people was a 350-ship Navy. The Navy itself has stated unequivocally that it needs a bare minimum of 355 ships to meet the missions with which it has been tasked by our regional combatant commanders. Yet, sadly, it is becoming clear that no real budgetary steps have been or will be taken to fund this promise. Further, there is nothing on the horizon to suggest that anything will change on this front.

The failure to rebuild America’s fleet could not have come at a worse time. The world has grown increasingly dangerous, with a nuclear madman in North Korea testing an ICBM a month, mullahs in Tehran plotting the takeover of the Middle East, Russia engaging in “frozen conflicts” in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, a very hot civil war in Syria, and China appropriating a vast swath of the Pacific to itself. The forgoing list does not even take into account the United States’ continuing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and dozens of other remote locales where we are in daily combat with al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban, and their assorted jihadi fellow travelers.

Budgetary Irresponsibility and Material Passivity
Although both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committees have endorsed a significant increase in military spending at President Trump’s behest, Congress sidestepped procedural opportunities that would have ended the 2011 Budget Control Act’s caps on defense spending. The caps led to disastrous cuts in military spending. Defense sequestration severely affected the overall readiness of our forces, a result for which American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have paid a heavy price. There seems to be no desire in the House Ways and Means Committee or the Senate Appropriations Committee to partner with the authorizers to fix this situation.

The Navy has not helped itself either. It has not pursued service-life extensions for retiring ships, such as the Ticonderoga -class cruisers or Los Angeles– class attack submarines scheduled for decommissioning in the next few years. Nor has it recalled into service ships such as the ten sturdy Perry -class frigates that are in the ready-reserve fleet. In fact, with regard to the reserve fleet, the Navy has acted precipitately either to sell off useful hulls, such as the Osprey -class mine-hunters — ships that could have accompanied the fleet during operations off the coast of North Korea or Iran — or to outright scrap or sink, in target practice, ships such as the Spruance -class destroyers, many of which had years of life left in their hulls. Neither has the Navy pursued low-cost/high-impact solutions such as building missile-patrol boats or installing vertical-launch-system cells on its new amphibious ships to give its smaller fleet a bigger punch. The Navy has demonstrated time and again that it is unwilling to embrace innovative approaches that are both efficient and effective with regard to its force structure.

The combination of congressional budgetary irresponsibility and the Navy’s passivity with respect to platforms is occurring even as Chinese shipyards […]