Jim Hartman: Shipwrecked: The shrinking U.S. Navy

Jim Hartman

Jim Hartman
Courtesy Photo

President Biden proposed a $773 billion defense budget for the next fiscal year, a nominal 4% increase from 2022.
With inflation currently running twice that level, the budget actually represents a cut in defense funding.
While Biden said he would boost defense spending next year because the world is more dangerous, his actual budget has none of the investment needed to keep pace with Russia and China.
The Biden budget particularly targets the U.S. Navy by decreasing the service’s shipbuilding procurement funding. The Navy’s 2023 budget proposes to purchase eight ships while retiring 24. That would add one ship for every three it would scrap.
The U.S. Navy fleet has shrunk from 318 ships in 2002 to a current 298-ship fleet. It would sink further to 280 ships in 2027, under Biden’s proposed plan.
During the 1980s, a 600-ship Navy was our strategic goal after cutbacks following the Vietnam War. The Navy fleet today is half the number it was during the Reagan administration, when the actual number peaked at 594 ships in 1987.
Since 2018, after then-President Donald Trump signed the annual defense authorization bill, the goal of building a modern 355-ship Navy has been national policy, mandated by law. That size was to be reached “as soon as practicable.”
But the latest budget request from the Biden administration not only fails to advance the goal but actually takes a huge step backward.
The U.S. faces growing naval competition from authoritarian powers – China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.
Most Republicans and some Democrats fear the United States falling dangerously behind China, which by sheer numbers has the largest naval fleet in the world.
According to the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military power, China’s fleet already numbers 355 surface ships and submarines and is “engaged in a robust shipbuilding program.”
The Chinese are expected to increase their overall battle force to 420 ships by 2025 and reach 460 ships by 2030.
The threat from China alone is rapidly rising. China makes a claim to nearly all of the 1.3 million-square mile South China Sea as its sovereign territory, despite claims from other countries to portions of it.
China’s destabilizing actions include an air defense zone in the East China Sea, aggression against the Philippines, coercion of Vietnam, harassment of Japan, border confrontations with India, and increasing pressure on Taiwan, threatening use of force.
On the other side of the world, the Russian Navy with 27 nuclear powered fast-attack submarines, and plans to add six more, operates in strategically critical waters like the Baltic and Black seas, and the Arctic.
Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine raises the specter of China launching a war in the South China Sea over Taiwan at the same time.
Should Russia and China launch competing world conflicts, the Navy is unprepared to fight two wars in separate regions without additional ships, Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The current fleet of 298 ships “is not sized to handle two simultaneous conflicts,” Gilday said. “It’s sized to fight one and keep a second adversary in check, but in terms of two all-out conflicts, we are not sized for that.”
The Navy is also trying to pull out of flawed acquisition practices, mistaken assumptions about maritime strategy and ballooning maintenance costs for increasingly high-tech, bug-prone systems.
The Navy faces serious readiness issues. The USS Boise, an attack submarine did not deploy in four years due to a maintenance backlog. The troubled USS Gerald R. Ford, first in a new class of aircraft carriers, will cost $14 billion and take 14 years to build.
Trump’s former Defense Secretary Mark Esper contends a new strategic plan is needed to build a Navy larger than 355 ships incorporating more attack submarines and light aircraft carriers.
Email Jim Hartman at lawdocman1@aol.com.

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