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Sen. Graham says shrinking Navy fleet ‘incredibly dangerous’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned Thursday that the Navy’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year would lead to a reduced naval fleet at a time when China is working harder than ever to achieve maritime dominance in the Indo-Pacific.

Graham grilled top Navy leaders at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing by noting that the Biden administration’s latest budget plan would spend less on defense than almost any other year on record when compared to the nation’s gross domestic product. He said this would particularly hurt the Navy, as the administration has admitted it would shrink the fleet from about 297 ships to 280 ships over five years.

“I’m just astounded that China’s going to be at 480 [ships] and we’re going to be at 280,” Graham told Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. “We’re going backwards in terms of the size of the Navy.”

When Graham asked Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday whether the U.S. should have a bigger naval presence west of the international dateline, Gilday replied, “Absolutely sir. The Navy, Marine Corps team is your best deterrent forward.” That prompted Graham to warn the latest budget plan doesn’t do nearly enough to make that happen.

“This budget that’s being proposed for this year and the next five years is incredibly dangerous,” Graham said. “There’s no way you’ll never convince me that going to about 2.5, 2.6 percent of GDP makes sense given the threats we face.”

In one exchange, the senator pressed Gilday and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. David Berger on China’s expansive naval growth.

“Would you they’re doing more than they’ve ever done to build a blue water navy?” Graham asked.

“Absolutely,” Gilday said.

“Would you say they’re all in on building a blue water navy?”

“They’re aspirations go well beyond the region, yes sir,” Gilday said.

“They’re all in trying to dominate Asia in terms of a military presence?”

“Concur, absolutely,” Berger said.

“Well, we’re not all in and we need to be,” Graham concluded. “Number one job of this Congress, every Congress, is to defend the nation and these budgets are woefully inadequate to the task. Our enemies are building up and we’re going down and that is a formula for more war, not less.”

Both Gilday and Del Toro reiterated their message from other recent hearings that the Navy should only field ships that can help the U.S. deter adversaries and win naval battles if called upon to do so. That means decommissioning several ships that the Navy has determined are not worth the upkeep and planning on a future force made up of more battleworthy vessels.

Several lawmakers have dismissed that plan as one that would immediately reduce the size of the fleet in the hopes of a future fleet that does not yet exist, a point Graham hammered home at the hearing.

“You can say anything you want to about the magic ships of 280,” Graham said. “We need a bigger Navy, not a smaller Navy, we need a robust military that can deter war and if we get in one, win it.”

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