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US Navy Can’t Afford a 355-Ship Fleet: Admiral

Michael Rainey


In 2016, the U.S. Navy set a goal of growing its fleet to 355 ships, but a high-ranking admiral said Friday that there isn’t enough money in the budget to reach that target.

“Will we get to 355-ships?” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Robert Burke said, according to USNI News. “I think with today’s fiscal situation, where the Navy’s top line is right now, we can keep around 305 to 310 ships whole, properly manned, properly maintained, properly equipped, and properly ready.”

The U.S. fleet currently consists of 290 battle force ships, including aircraft carriers, submarines, surface combatants, amphibious ships, combat logistics ships and some support ships. (You can check the Status of the Navy page for regular updates on the fleet.) While the Navy’s current building plan is still focused on the 355-ship goal, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report earlier this month that it would need roughly twice as much funding as the historical average over the last three decades in order to get there.

“If the Navy received the same average annual amount of funding (in constant dollars) for ship construction in each of the next 30 years that it has received over the past three decades, the service would not be able to afford its 2020 shipbuilding plan,” the CBO said. Budgets are projected to be flat or declining during that time.

The CBO also said that Navy officials have told Congress that they expect to release a new force structure plan by the end of the year, and that the force-size goal is “likely to change.”

The cost of building new ships isn’t the only concern, the CBO said. Operating a larger fleet also requires billions more in funding. While the current fleet costs about $60 billion per year to operate and support, “by 2049 the 355-ship fleet would cost about $90 billion per year (in 2019 dollars).”

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