Navy Forges Ahead with 500-Ship Plan in Wake of Esper's Firing

Two U.S. Air Force B-l B Lancers along with U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet jets fly overhead.
Two U.S. Air Force B-l B Lancers assigned to the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, along with U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, perform a flyover of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Nimitz (CVN 68), and USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) Carrier Strike Groups in the Western Pacific, Nov. 11, 2017. (James Griffin/U.S. Navy)

Plans to build a 500-ship Navy are still intact as the Trump administration ushered in a host of new leaders at the Pentagon this week -- though the top admiral overseeing shipbuilding says challenges remain.

Battle Force 2045, Defense Secretary Mark Esper's ambitious plan to nearly double the size of the Navy fleet, is still underway. Esper was fired by President Donald Trump's this week, and several new civilian leaders were installed to replace him and other top policy staffers.

So far though, there's no indication that the plan Esper announced last month won't move forward, Vice Adm. William Galinis, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command, told reporters this week.

"I don't see any change to that right now," Galinis said. "We'll have to see how things play out over the next several weeks here, but I don't see any change."

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The plan calls for aggressively building a fleet of more than 500 manned and unmanned ships and submarines. And for a force that has run into some challenges with shipyard capacity and getting vessels built and fixed on time, the plan won't come without challenges.

"The underlying analytics and the requirements [of Battle Force 2045], I think, remain sound," Galinis said at a Thursday Defense Writers Group event. "How we meet those requirements, that's a topic for further discussion."

Esper, when announcing Battle Force 2045, said building up the size of the U.S. Navy is crucial to countering China's troubling and "brazen destabilizing" actions in the Asia-Pacific region, along with the country's plans to form "a world-class military by 2049." Russia has also stepped up its game, with more submarine presence in the Atlantic and its icebreaker fleet in the Arctic.

But building hundreds of new vessels -- including three Virginia-class subs per year, which Esper called the most vital part of the plan -- likely won't be easy, Galinis said.

"In terms of the industrial base's ability to build those ships, I think there are some capacity challenges out there," he said. "... Especially when we start talking about maybe going to three Virginias a year, and what it takes to transition from to two to three per year.

"There's some capacity issues not just within the shipyard, but the supply base as well."

Galinis said some of the top needs he sees are for welders, electricians and mechanics.

The Battle Force 2045 plan for between 140 and 240 unmanned ships could lead to new opportunities for the Navy though, he added. Since they're smaller than traditional manned ships, the Navy might be able to tap small- and medium-sized shipyards they haven't worked with in the past.

"So there's some capacity we can bring into that so, there are some things we have to go work on to be able to meet that," Galinis said, "and we've got to get going."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: The Navy Really Does Need 500 Ships, Experts Say. But Paying for Them Won't Be Easy

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