Campaign promises are pesky things. President Donald Trump is finding it difficult to deliver on his promise to increase the size of the Navy from 275 ships today to an eventual 350 ship fleet (as part of a general increase in military spending). Like any presidential candidate, Trump made many promises on the campaign trail, the overwhelming majority of which will never be realized. Some campaign promises are plain falsehoods, some represent policy ends for which there is not sufficient Congressional support, some are prioritized lower than others due to scarce political capital, and some represent tent-pole priorities of an administration. After the release of the administration’s FY 2018 budget this week, many are wondering where the 350 ship Navy fits. The answer? It is too soon to tell.
Radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt has been active on Twitter and editorializing elsewhere that the promise has already been broken, citing the reporting of Sydney Freedberg of the inconvenient fact that the budget does not grow the Navy any faster than the outgoing Obama administration had planned. David Axe also wonders about Trump’s dedication to his promise, pointing (appropriately) to near term investments in workforce and plant capacity that would need to be made to enable the growth Trump desires. Such broad-based criticism of the budget’s dedication to the campaign’s shipbuilding commitments appears to have influenced the White House to add an additional littoral combat ship (LCS) the day after the budget was submitted — a sign of nervousness over the reaction to the plan.
These reactions — though based on facts — are premature. First, it does not appear that Trump as candidate or president publicly laid out a timeline for a 350 ship Navy. Recent fleet architecture work envisioning a similar sized fleet (I was a contributor) projected that it would take decades to build it, absent a national emergency. Given the long-term nature of the project, there need not be an immediate increase in shipbuilding.
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