There could be a lot more ships in the Navy’s future, though it remains unclear where the money will come from and exactly how those ships might be used.
President-elect Donald Trump pledged to boost the fleet to 350 ships, a proposal advocated by an outgoing Virginia congressman reportedly being considered as the next Navy secretary.
“My plan will build the 350 ship Navy we need,” Trump said in an Oct. 21 speech, according to his campaign website. “This will be the largest effort at rebuilding our military since Ronald Reagan, and it will require a truly national effort.”
The speech provided no additional details. However, U.S. Naval Institute News reported that a source close to Trump attributed the idea to Rep. Randy Forbes, whose southeast Virginia district is part of the Navy’s East Coast hub.
The Navy’s 272-ship deployable fleet is operating under a 30-year shipbuilding plan that would bring it up to 308 ships.
However, just getting the service up to 308 would require $4.5 billion more in annual shipbuilding spending than planned, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Getting to 350 would cost about $4 billion more annually on top of that, according to a Nov. 9 Congressional Research Service report. That doesn’t include several billion dollars more in maintenance, staffing, weapons acquisition and long-term costs.
The large increase in shipbuilding would be paralleled by spending increases in other areas, if Congress agrees to Trump’s campaign pledges.
Trump called for increasing the active-duty Army by 60,000 soldiers and the Marines by 20,000 service members, Trump supporter Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Defense News last month.
To spend more on shipbuilding and personnel, Congress would likely have to repeal or alter a law that subjects spending above budget caps to across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.
“Well, it would be a need for a spending increase, there is just no doubt about it,” Sessions said. “And it is painful for me as a budget person to acknowledge that we can’t stay at a sequester-like level. We are just not going to be able to do that.”
Makeup of the fleet
There are several notional plans for what a 350-ship plan would look like, most of which converge in key areas.
As Cold War-era submarines retire, the fast-attack fleet is projected to decrease 25 percent by 2029. Multiple 350-ship plans call for 12 additional fast-attack submarines, which cost about $2 billion each.
The Navy is dependent on two shipyards to build its submarines. Those same contractors will also likely be working on 12 replacements for the nuclear ballistic-missile sub fleet, which begins retiring in 2027.
“Going from building two Virginia Class submarines per year to four would not be as simple as adding more money to the ship construction account,” Jerry Hendrix, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, wrote this month in support of the 350-ship Navy. “Welders certified to work on nuclear-powered vessels take a year or more to train and certify, and the companies involved cannot cut corners for fear of damaging their reputations and stock prices.”