The Trump administration this week is taking an important step to quicken the U.S. Navy’s buildup after its disastrous decline under previous administrations. By the Obama administration’s last year, after decades of cuts to shipbuilding and maintenance, the Navy had been stripped down to a fleet barely larger than it was 100 years ago. These 275 ships struggled to meet America’s national-security needs, leaving crews stressed, basic maintenance deferred, and the country at risk. The shipbuilding industrial base shrank to a fraction of the manufacturing might that won the Cold War.
Mr. Trump has made it a priority to expand the fleet to 355 battle-force ships and strengthen America’s maritime supremacy. This “blue water” strategic approach deters U.S. adversaries, allows America to project power abroad, and over time offers a cost-effective alternative to endless deployments overseas. As a maritime nation, the U.S. depends on control of the sea to protect its people as well as the flow of cargo.
The Trump administration has steadily increased the number and readiness of battle-force ships and Thursday will move to accelerate that buildup. The White House will release a 30-year shipbuilding plan that devotes the resources necessary to making a 355-ship fleet a reality.
The seminal document is the result of an unprecedented nine-month study of naval force structure by the Pentagon. It provides a detailed blueprint to lawmakers and industry partners, reinforcing the American commitment to maintaining maritime supremacy.
The plan will provide a battle force of 355 vessels within 10 years and nearly 400 within 20 years. It will end the decadeslong decline in attack submarines by building three a year beginning in 2025, with a goal of 80. It will more than double the number of small multimission ships to nearly 70. The backbone of this ship class will be the new Constellation-class frigates, and the Navy will need a second shipyard to increase the pace of construction. The workhorses of the fleet, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, will be modernized.
The government will maintain its current 11 aircraft carriers while investing in a new class of carriers to follow. The recapitalization of the nation’s strategic ballistic missile submarine fleet will remain a top priority of the Navy, modernizing the most survivable leg of the nuclear triad. Finally, the plan calls for significant investments in new unmanned ships, which will enhance the resilient strike capabilities of the fleet at a fraction of the cost of manned ships.
This road map is accompanied by proposed investments in our country’s shipbuilding industry to increase production capacity and create more American jobs. Stable and consistent shipbuilding investments would employ hundreds of thousands with critical manufacturing skills that are easily applicable to other industries. This new labor demand will inspire young people to obtain the requisite vocational training, helping to sustain U.S. manufacturing strength.
The Trump administration is also releasing a fiscal framework to demonstrate that this naval expansion is affordable, even with the prospect of constrained future defense budgets.
Assuming a Defense Department budget top line that is effectively frozen at $722 billion in fiscal 2022, adjusted only for inflation, the plan would increase shipbuilding construction by only $6.7 billion, or 33%, to $27 billion in the first year. The Navy buildup would add an additional $39 billion by 2026. Other national-security priorities would not need to be sacrificed. The increased costs would be fully paid for by reinvesting savings accrued from drawdowns in the Middle East, managing the size of military personnel, and cutting Pentagon overhead.
Mr. Trump delivered on his promises to rebuild the military. Yet the national-security challenges before America are urgent and immense. Although less capable than ours, China’s navy already stands at more than 350 vessels and is growing rapidly. Beijing is building islands in the South China Sea, threatening trade routes, and menacing allies. U.S. maritime dominance is necessary to meet this great challenge. The shipbuilding plan will deliver the president’s promise of “peace through strength” in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond.
–Mr. Vought is the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Mr. O’Brien is the president’s national security adviser.
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