Donald Trump

Trump to get his 350-plus ship Navy with an eye on rival China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 December, 2016, 1:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 December, 2016, 10:15am

The US Navy says it needs as many as 355 ships, up from the current goal of 308, echoing a goal that President-elect Donald Trump set in his campaign.

The “Force Structure Assessment” being released on Friday calls for expanding the Navy from its current fleet of 272 over the next 30 years.

During the presidential campaign, Trump called for a 350-ship Navy. Now, the Navy has done essentially the same, rebuffing a blunt warning a year ago from Ash Carter, President Barack Obama’s defence secretary, to emphasise quality over quantity.

A 355-vessel fleet is “the level that balanced an acceptable level of war-fighting risk to our equipment and personnel against available resources and achieves a force size that can reasonably achieve success,” the Navy said in the report. A summary of the assessment was sent to Congress and obtained by Bloomberg News.

Trump said in a speech in September that he adopted his 350-ship goal from a bipartisan panel created by Congress to review the Pentagon’s 2014 quadrennial review of projected threats and US responses. That report called for “somewhere between” 323 and 346 ships while cautioning more may be needed to meet challenges such as China’s plan to have “close to” 350 vessels by 2020.

The Navy’s force-structure goal is adjusted every few years, and has been in the range of 306 to 328 ships since 2006, according to the Congressional Research Service. The last assessment was in 2014.

“While continuing the counterterrorism fight and appropriately competing with a growing China and resurgent Russia, our Navy must continue to grow,“ Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a statement. “All of the analysis done to date, inside and outside of the Navy, recognises, as we have for nearly the last eight years, the need for a larger fleet.”

The new goals would boost by 16 the number of “large surface combatants”-- destroyers, cruisers or both. It would add one aircraft carrier in addition to the 11 mandated by law today, 18 more attack submarines and as many as four new amphibious warfare ships.

Cost remains the biggest impediment: The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates a 350-ship Navy would cost an average US$4 billion extra annually over the current forecast of about $16.3 billion a year for new ship construction through 2021. The current budget calls for eight new vessels in fiscal 2018; seven in fiscal 19; and eight each in 2020 and 2021.

Defence budget caps that remain in place for fiscal 2018 to 2021 under the 2011 Budget Control Act would constrain a naval build-up. The Pentagon faces about $106.6 billion in potential cuts from its current budget projections -- starting with $33.6 billion in fiscal 2018.

Carter said in his December 14 memo last year to Mabus, the Navy secretary, that the service’s goal at the time of 308 vessels “should be met but not irresponsibly exceeded.” He said the Navy had been counting on piecemeal funding of ships at the “expense of critically needed areas where our adversaries are not standing still.”

The Navy’s new assessment was originally scheduled to be released next month but was accelerated by Mabus so that it would have his personal stamp before he leaves office with the arrival of the Trump administration.