The Navy said in December that it needs to grow its fleet to 355 ships from its current battle force of 274, and with the public backing of President Donald Trump, the buildup has a good chance of happening. But how fast can the service reach that goal?
Speaking at the annual forum of the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the chairman of the House's seapower and projection forces subcommittee said lawmakers were examining that question now.
"We have asked the [Congressional Budget Office] to give us scenarios for how we get to 355 ships over the course of time," Rep. Rob Wittman, a Republican from Virginia, said. "How do we get there in 15 years, 20 years, 25 years, 30 years. We want to see the progress that we can make."
To reach the goal of 355 ships, Wittman noted, there must also be provision to fund the "tail," the Marines and sailors who can man and maintain new ships entering the fleet. He added that Congress must find a way around the defense spending caps set in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which enacted the 10-year slate of reductions known as sequestration.
"We want to make sure we have a bold plan; a plan that we can easily attain, and make sure we get the fleet where it needs to be," Wittman said.
Even if the Navy gets the full fleet build-up it's asking for, it's likely not every U.S. commander operating around the world will get all the ships he or she wants. The stated need for amphibious ships stayed constant in the new assessment, at 38, up from the current fleet total of 31.
At the AWIBC forum Monday, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said the Corps could use 45 or 50 amphibious ships. But speaking to Military.com after the event, he indicated he was satisfied with the current assessment.
"You’ve got to get to 38 before you can go beyond 38. Currently we’re at 31. And the current plan only takes us to 34, so going to 38 right now is acceptable and we’ll see how it goes," He said. "Thirty-eight is certainly better than 31."