Retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis argued Friday that “every serious observer” thinks the U.S. needs 350 warships as President Donald Trump pledged, and yet the recent Trump administration budget is nowhere near that goal.
In an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, Stavridis noted that both Russia and China are surging forward with naval development, and while Russia’s navy is smaller in comparison to that fielded by the U.S., Russian vessels operate in key areas where the U.S. has limited reach, namely the contested Black Sea, the North Atlantic and especially the Arctic.
Using stolen technology, China has also made alarming strides, despite entirely lacking a naval tradition. Nevertheless, Chinese naval activity is slowly starting to present problems because much like Russia, it’s using its navy in a local, rather than global, context related to concrete strategic objectives, like expanding sovereignty in the South China Sea.
Although China only has a single aircraft carrier, since its navy operates close to shore, mainland China effectively operates as its own aircraft carrier.
“The Chinese navy has many advantages in the relatively confined waters where it operates,” wrote Stavridis. “It is developing a kind of hybrid war at sea, combining the use of cyberattacks, unmarked coastal military warships and ostensibly nonmilitary coast guard ships to intimidate our allies and friends. They deploy highly precise cruise missiles, operate super-quiet diesel submarines and adeptly integrate their naval forces with land-based aircraft. Their mines are sophisticated and pose a significant threat to our ships.”
For Stavridis, the only way to match China and Russia while also achieving U.S. objectives of “dominating a defined sea space anywhere on the globe” is to build more ships, which entails a fleet of 350 warships and 100 more for logistics and surveillance.
And yet, although President Donald Trump pledged in late 2016 to grow the U.S. Navy from 275 warships to 350, the new fiscal year 2018 budget does no such thing, only asking for eight ships.
As GOP Sen. Susan Collins recently noted, this eight ship request is no different from what the Obama administration had in mind.
Projected years down the road, the Navy will end up with around 308 ships, which again follows what the Obama administration already set in motion.
“The oceans are an incredible resource for all of humankind, from protein to hydrocarbons,” Stavridis concluded. “They provide the vital sea lanes of communication that allow the global economy to function. But they are also an arena of conflict and have proven again and again in history to be the pivot upon which big geopolitical shifts turn. We ignore our need for strength there at our peril: sea power is at the heart of American power.”
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