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Navy ship plan gets pummeled in the press: 'Out of touch'

Updated: Jun 16, 2022

The Navy has a Rodney Dangerfield problem – its latest shipbuilding plan gets no respect, no respect at all.

In April, the Navy released a shipbuilding plan that calls for more decommissioned ships than new ships, and foresees a fleet of about 280 ships over the next five years.

Several lawmakers have warned since then that the Navy needs to push harder to maintain and grow the fleet, and a growing number of published articles seem to agree.

Just this week, Yorktown Institute President Seth Cropsey argued in The Hill that accepting a shrinking fleet means the Navy is poised to lose a war in the Pacific.

“The Navy’s current plan is – to understate it – out of touch with strategic reality,” Cropsey wrote.

While the Navy seems comfortable working with just 24 amphibious ships, the Marines have said they need a minimum of 31, and Cropsey agreed by saying amphibious ships could be the key to taking on China.

“The Marine Corps has begun to experiment with littoral maneuver, standing up the first Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) in March,” he wrote. “Marine doctrine emphasizes the rapid redeployment of light anti-ship forces from island to island; Light Amphibious Warships (LAWs) would support the MLRs.”

“Amphibious assault ships like the San Antonio-class give the U.S. unmatched crisis response ability; they are a core of U.S. power. Yet the Navy appears poised to cut funding for the LPDs,” he added. “Congress should understand the significant harm to the U.S. defense industrial base of ending support for the LPD and resist the Navy’s plan. The Sea Services require the funding and direction for a full class of Flight II San Antonio LPDs.”

In mid-May, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute warned in Forbes that the Navy’s latest plan continues to keep America’s shipbuilding industry in a crippled state. He said that only a handful of public shipyards can make today’s complex Navy vessels, and said the Navy is not giving the industry any incentive to expand.

“Unfortunately, the Navy’s constantly shifting plans provide little incentive to invest in what seems to be a low-margin, unpredictable business,” he wrote.

Thompson said the shrinking fleet means the U.S. has already put Taiwan at risk of being overtaken with little hope of any help from America.

“U.S. warships typically are more capable than their Chinese counterparts, but when you factor in the concentration of Beijing’s fleet in or near home waters while the U.S. fleet must cover the entire world, it appears U.S. naval power in the Western Pacific is headed for marked inferiority,” he wrote.

“The Biden administration probably needs to begin planning for the permanent deployment of U.S. Army ground forces in Taiwan, at least one armored brigade, because the force the Navy is proposing may not be able to deter or defeat Chinese aggression,” he said.

Also in May, Matthew Hipple, active-duty naval officer and former President of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), issued similar warnings about the state of both the U.S. Navy and American shipbuilding.

“During a decade that many U.S. Department of Defense leaders have characterized as particularly dangerous for deterrence of China, the conventional [People’s Liberation Army Navy] may outnumber the total USN by 50 percent. The United States nor its Navy would fight China alone – but the rapidly worsening margins remain a concern,” he wrote.

“The time has passed for the resets and divestments of the past revisited by the FY23 shipbuilding plan,” Hipple added. “The currents ahead are strong, and the Navy must resist them rather than be driven up onto the shoals. Decline is a choice we must resist.”

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