President Donald Trump promised to build about 80 new ships to bring the Navy’s fleet to a total of 350 ships during his campaign, but his first budget proposal only includes funding for one new ship.
Far from the massive Navy buildup Trump promised during the campaign, many decried the budget as barely better than President Barack Obama’s previous budgets.
What changed between Trump’s campaign promise to build up the Navy and his first budget? Building more ships is not a high priority for the administration this year because of the current priorities of the Pentagon, according to defense experts.
The Foundation For American Greatness 2018 budget proposal released Tuesday only called requested funding for one new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the Navy’s latest frigate model. Officials stressed later in the week that the White House and the Navy are open to finding $600 million in funding to order a second ship during testimony.
The two-ship increase is still far below what’s needed to fulfill Trump’s campaign promise of expanding the Navy to 350 ships, as he proposed in his national defense platform released during the presidential campaign September.
Instead of pushing for ramping up shipbuilding, the administration is prioritizing improving maintenance, operations and weapons to prepare for increasing the fleet size.
“It’s a prudent first step, to fill in, or try to fill in some of the gaps” in modernization and readiness, Bryan McGrath, deputy director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
While McGrath would have liked to see a buildup of the Navy’s fleet in 2018, the reality is that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has prioritized modernization and replenishing weapons over growing the force. (RELATED: Mattis Personally Requests More Bombs To Kill ISIS Terrorists)
“Fix readiness, then start growing [the Navy] next year,” McGrath said. “If they don’t grow next year, people should be really disappointed.”
The reality of the budget process is that “every dollar has other claims on it,” McGrath said.
Building a Navy the size that Trump wants would take years, and cost as much as $25 billion annually, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.
The fiscal year 2018 budget includes $4.6 billion for the new Ford-class aircraft carrier, $5.5 billion for two Virginia-class submarines, $4 billion for two Arleigh-Burke class destroyers and $1.2 billion for one new LCS.
The troubled LCS program, dogged by delays and costly repairs after some of the ships broke down on their maiden voyages, is still the best option for building ships quickly now. However, if Congress doesn’t fund two ships in 2018, one of the two LCS shipyards might have to close down.
The Office of Management and Budget and the Navy are scrambling to find money to build a second LCS ship in 2018, after outcry from the industry and Congress.
Building only one LCS ship “essentially means the death of one of those ship yards,” McGrath said. One shipyard that builds LCS ships, run by Lockheed Martin, is in Marinette, Wisc., and the other, an Austal shipyard, is located in Mobile, Ala. Both those states voted for Trump in 2016, McGrath noted.
Another problem with building up the Navy in 2018 is that the Trump administration hasn’t fully sold the American people, or Washington decision makers, on why we need a bigger Navy. “Looking at it as an average American, the president hasn’t articulated why we need a larger Navy, only that he wants a larger Navy,” McGrath said.
Building sea power is critical, according to McGrath, because “winter is coming.” China and Russia are growing “dissatisfied with the global systems of trade, rule of law and diplomacy,” McGrath said. “I don’t believe that dissatisfaction will be peaceful.”
Obama’s final Navy budget for fiscal 2016 gave about $16.5 billion for shipbuilding, not including support services. Trump’s first budget allocates around $19.3 billion.
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