Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday this week made his most straightforward pitch yet to Congress for a growing Navy budget that provides at least 355 ships over the next two decades.
In April, the Navy released a shipbuilding plan that laid out three possible options, two of which would keep the Navy flat and a third option that calls for much more aggressive growth in the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.
That plan frustrated several lawmakers who said the Navy should push harder for a budget that allows it to complete its mission of deterring U.S. adversaries, instead of accepting artificial budget limitations from the White House. On Thursday, Gilday got close to accepting that challenge by recommending an aggressive growth strategy for the fleet.
“[Option] three does a better job,” Gilday said when asked which of the three choices helps the U.S. keep pace with China and move toward a 355-ship fleet.
He acknowledged that it won’t be easy to rebuild the fleet but said steadier funding for Navy shipbuilding would put the U.S. on track to reach 355 by the mid-2040s. He said the major challenge would be expanding the industrial base to boost shipbuilding capacity.
“We’ve under-invested in the United States Navy for two decades for good reason, based on our priorities in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Gilday said. “Getting the industrial base, putting that rudder over and generating new capability and speed, that’s a challenge, particularly when you think about the complexity of the warships, the best warships in the world that we put to sea. And so, it’s going to take time.”
Still, he predicted the goal could be achieved as long as funding needs are met along the way.
“We would get there with three but that would require real growth in the budget,” Gilday said. “With respect to 355, that would be out in the 2040s in order to put us on that path, which I think is probably physically reasonable given, again, the constraints of the industrial base.”
Later in the hearing, Gilday reverted back toward the official Biden administration position by arguing that even with a smaller fleet, the Navy can continue to deter adversaries at sea.
“Although the size of the Navy may dip, the capabilities of the Navy are actually going to be greater than they ever have been before,” he said.
It will be up to Congress whether to add more funding to the Navy’s budget beyond what the Biden administration requested in its FY 2023 budget. That request called for $40 billion in shipbuilding funds to build nine new ships, although it also calls for the decommissioning on 24 vessels.
Gilday and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro testified in the House and Senate about the budget request, where they faced more criticism for putting forward a request that would shrink the Navy. In the House, Gilday defended the decision to decommission so many ships by saying they are too expensive to maintain and wouldn’t make enough of a difference in battle to keep.
Last year, Congress rode to the Navy’s rescue and included extra funds to build more ships and keep the fleet flat. This week, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) warned that it may be more difficult for Congress to agree to add more funding.
“We can’t assume that this year,” he said.
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