The Biden administration this week released a proposed budget for fiscal year 2023 that would cut the Navy fleet by 15 ships if enacted, by funding the construction of nine new Navy ships and decommissioning 24.
The proposal is much tougher on the fleet than the prior year’s proposal from the White House, which called for eight new ships and decommissioning 15, a net loss of seven ships. Each of Biden’s first two budget proposals have moved away from the goal of a 355-ship fleet, which Congress supported in law in late 2017 – the fleet currently sits at 296 ships.
Under Biden’s latest budget, funding would be available for two Virginia-class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Constellation-class frigate, one America-class amphibious assault ship, one San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, one John Lewis-class fleet oiler, and one Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ship, according to DefenseNews.
But it would also decommission 24 ships: nine Freedom-variant LCSs, five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, four Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ships, two attack submarines, two oilers and two Montford Point-class expeditionary transfer docks.
Congress is not obligated to adopt budget plans from the White House, and in fact lawmakers routinely dismiss those plans. When it comes to Biden’s proposals for the Navy fleet, both Republicans and Democrats have rejected plans to shrink the Navy and called for a larger fleet.
For example, in final spending bill for the current fiscal year, Congress rejected plans to shrink the fleet and instead added a ship to the Navy. Congress also explicitly prohibited the Pentagon from decommissioning three ships.
Lawmakers now have several months to consider Biden’s newest budget offering, and will do so at a time when many agree that only a larger fleet will allow the U.S. to deter Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
The Biden administration itself has indicated in the last few days that a stronger American presence is needed to defend the homeland and U.S. allies abroad. Over the weekend, Adm. John Aquilino, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a reminder that China could move against Taiwan at any time and that the U.S. fleet must be ready.
“I don't think anyone five months ago would have predicted an invasion of the Ukraine. So I think the number one lesson is: ‘Hey, this could really happen,’” he said in Australia.
“Their operations have certainly changed specifically as it applies to their operations around Taiwan — increased maritime and air operations that are designed as a pressure campaign against the people of Taiwan,” he said. “We have to make sure we are prepared should any actions get taken.”
The budget also seems to conflict with Biden's comments over the weekend, when he said free societies must always be ready to fight to stay free.
“They have always been under siege,” Biden said in Warsaw. “They’ve always been embattled. Every generation has had to defeat democracy’s mortal foes. That’s the way of the world — for the world is imperfect, as we know. Where the appetites and ambitions of a few forever seek to dominate the lives and liberties of many.”
Biden said Russia’s actions are “nothing less than a direct challenge to the rule-based international order established since the end of World War Two.”
“And it threatens to return to decades of war that ravaged Europe before the international rule-based order was put in place,” Biden added. “We cannot go back to that. We cannot.”
Overall, Biden's total budget proposal for the Pentagon landed at $773 billion, up about $30 billion from Congress's final spending bill. That amounts to a 4 percent increase, short of the 5 percent hike Republicans are seeking.
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