U.S. Navy Cutting Back

An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Tophatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 participates in an air power demonstration over the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Pacific Ocean, April 24, 2013.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Tophatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 participates in an air power demonstration over the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Pacific Ocean, April 24, 2013.

A 355-ship Navy has long been the holy grail for a service looking to reclaim its unchallenged pre-eminence on the seas.

Navy strategists and private analysts have repeatedly set the figure as the fleet’s gold standard, with an expansion and modernization designed to keep pace with growing maritime threats from China and Russia.

Candidate Donald Trump campaigned on the ship expansion in 2016, and President Trump officially made the 355-ship target official U.S. policy with the signing in late 2017 of a defense authorization bill that called for a fleet of 355 “battle force ships … as soon as practicable.”

But top Navy brass are suddenly questioning whether it’s the right standard as the Pentagon prepares for rough waters in budget negotiations.

“In light of the new National Defense Strategy, and changes in the national security environment since that guidance came out, we are doing a new force structure assessment. We will see where that goes,” Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations, told reporters last week.

When asked directly whether the goal of a 355-ship fleet could be dropped, Adm. Richardson replied: “We may get a new number. We may hold to [355], we may not. The analysis is in progress.”

The Navy currently sails 284 vessels in its battle force fleet, up from 276 in 2017 but far short of the 355-ship goal.

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