Former Navy Leader Warns About Fleet Expansion

By Jon Harper

Photo: Defense Dept.

The Navy and President Donald Trump aim to increase the size of the fleet to 350-plus ships. But pursuing that goal could be detrimental, according to a former service leader.

The Congressional Research Service estimates that 73 to 77 ships would have to be added to the Navy’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan to achieve and maintain a 355-ship force in the coming decades. That would require about $5 billion more in annual shipbuilding funds compared to the previous plan for 308 ships, according to a recent CRS report, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.”

Richard Danzig, who served as secretary of the Navy under President Bill Clinton, said focusing on ship numbers in an era of budget constraints could lead to the acquisition of the wrong types of vessels.

“If you raise the flag of 350 or 355 ships as the measure of our well-being and we put it out there as what we want above all, we will motivate people to build more and more at the low end and less and less at the high end, and it’s the high-end [ships] we need” to fight and deter a major conflict with advanced adversaries such as Russia and China, he said during a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Promoting innovation and enhancing lethality should be a higher priority than acquiring additional ships, Danzig said.

Unmanned systems for the air, surface and undersea domains, artificial intelligence, cyber capabilities, standoff weapons, hypersonics and stealth capabilities are examples of technologies that could make the Navy much more potent, he said.

Additionally, the service should focus on investing in efforts to address current readiness challenges, he said. “All I’m going to do if I sign up for this [350-ship] metric is exacerbate an underlying problem.”

Danzig said ship numbers are not unimportant and he’s not opposed to having a larger Navy in the future, but other concerns should be more pressing.

“Your real priorities should lie with the personnel, with the technology and with the capability for fundamental [high-end] warfighting,” he said. Trying to reach a goal of 350 or 355 ships “distracts from that priority and points us in the wrong direction in terms of ultimately the kind of balance we need to achieve,” he added.

Topics: Budget, Navy News

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