As the Biden administration finalizes its first budget plan, the Navy's top officer said competition for funding is high among the military's top leaders.
But Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Thursday he's confident the Navy Department has a "sound case" for getting a bigger piece of the defense budget since the sea services' forward presence will be crucial in meeting threats from China and Russia.
"I am parochial, of course, as a service chief, but I truly believe that the Navy is providing substantial lethality and capability to the joint force and contributing ... to the kind of fights that we're going to [face] in the future," he said at an event hosted by the Navy Memorial.
Gilday has for more than a year said his service needs a bigger portion of the defense budget to build the ships and submarines to keep other militaries, including China's, in check. During the Cold War, the Navy got 38% of the Defense Department's budget, the CNO said during the 2020 Surface Navy Association's symposium.
But that has fallen to 34%, he said last year, at a time when naval forces have been stretched to respond to threats in the Middle East, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region and other spots. Gilday is not alone in arguing that's not enough.
Blake Herzinger, a defense policy specialist and U.S. Navy Reserve officer, wrote an opinion piece for Foreign Policy last week arguing that today's threats demand that the "rule of thirds," which currently divvies up the funding pot to the Army, Air Force and Navy Department fairly equally, must change.
"Much as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were largely ground-centric efforts led (rightly) by the Army, the challenges faced by the United States now and for the foreseeable future are maritime," Herzinger wrote. "If the United States and China go to war, it will play out in the vast oceans of the region, not on Chinese shores."
Gilday said that the threats China and Russia pose to the world aren't limited to any two regions. Only a steady forward presence on and from the seas will assure allies and partners that "we have their backs," he said.
"In order to be relevant, we got to be there," the CNO added. "... Those forward operations are important. They make a difference. Virtual presence is actual absence -- we've got to be there."
Still, the idea that the Navy Department should get more money than other services is not popular with everyone. As Herzinger noted last week, the Navy has had three back-to-back-to-back seriously flawed shipbuilding programs in the littoral combat ship, Zumwalt-class destroyer, and Ford-class aircraft carrier.
The Navy recently halted acceptance of new littoral combat ships due to a new mechanical problem. The Zumwalt-class destroyer was delivered to the service without a working combat system more than three years after it was commissioned. The first in the Ford-class carriers has also faced problems with its weapons elevators and catapult systems, leaving it delayed and far over budget.
Gilday on Thursday defended some of those programs, saying the Ford is on track to deploy in 2022 and that he remains "bullish about LCS" and confident it will play a role in future missions.
Despite the competition for Defense Department funding, he said the internal battles haven't harmed the relationships between the services. The Navy and Marine Corps remain committed to ensuring U.S. ships can freely navigate, and now the Army and Air Force are eyeing those missions, he said.
"The Army is talking about long-range fires and ... how they can contribute to sea control and sea denial. The Air Force, similarly," Gilday said. "So, I'm making the strongest case that I can make for the capabilities that the Navy brings to the fight within the joint force."