JUST IN: Navy Chief Fighting for Readiness and Capacity

By Mikayla Easley

Navy photo by MC3 Nathan Burke

Despite criticism of the Navy’s plans for its future fleet size, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday says he is optimistic about the sea service’s options to produce a ready and robust fleet.

The Department of the Navy recently unveiled its new 30-year shipbuilding plan, offering three different fleet expansion scenarios. Like the Navy’s $180.5 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2023, the shipbuilding plan prioritizes the fleet’s readiness over capacity — an approach that has caused friction between the service and Congress in recent years.

However, Gilday expressed confidence in the Navy’s ability to work with lawmakers and find areas of agreement.

“Nobody likes the numbers with respect to capacity. But they know that if we flip that model and we make capacity king, we're going to have to pay for those ships somehow and it’s going to come out of manpower, ammunition, all those other things,” he said during an April 28 event hosted by Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the United States Naval Institute.

The first two options in the Navy’s updated shipbuilding plan assume scenarios under “a budget with no real growth,” according to the document. One would bring the Navy’s inventory to 316 ships by 2052 and the other would bring its inventory to 327 ships in the same timeframe — both short of the fleet size of 355 ships set forth in the 2018 NDAA.

The third option represented in the document assumes up to $75 billion in real budget growth beyond 2022, and would allow the Navy to bring its fleet to 367 ships by 2052.

However, the document notes that the ability of the industrial base to support the third option “has not been independently assessed.”

The shipbuilding plan also shows the Navy continuing to decommission ships over the next few fiscal years. The service is currently asking in its 2023 budget request to buy nine ships while simultaneously decommissioning 24.

The proposal has also received pushback from Congress, which wants the service to increase — not decrease — the size of its fleet.

“That’s not to say we’re not fighting for money for more capacity,” Gilday said. “But when we took a look at the topline that we had for [fiscal year 2023] … our bumper sticker was that we’re not going to have a navy bigger than we can sustain.”

Gilday acknowledged that there will likely be debates on Capitol Hill regarding what ships the service wants to retire and when they’ll be able to do so, but those conversations are what allow the service to make the right decisions.

In order to make progress on the surface ship capacity argument, Gilday said, the Navy needs to match the stability and predictability of the service’s submarine industrial base.

“If I take a look out to … almost 20 years from now, on the production side, they have a high degree of confidence that we’re going to be in a cadence of two, if not three, attack boats a year plus an SSBN,” he said. “That’s where I’d like to go with surface ships, so I think we have a start.”

As an example, Gilday said that he would like to get to a place where the Navy can request funds each year for three destroyers, two to three frigates and potentially amphibious transport docks every other year. Those goals would be achievable if given a larger topline budget, he added, but the argument for it should resonate with lawmakers.

“That kind of stability and predictability is good for the Navy, it’s good for the nation and it’s certainly good for the industrial base,” he said.


Clarification: This article has been updated to include the United States Naval Institute as another host of the event.


Topics: Navy News

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