WASHINGTON: Sure, American industry can build the 355-ship fleet both Trump and the admirals want, three former Navy Secretaries said today. We can even build it a lot faster than most experts expect, but there are a lot of IFs. If we start using small shipyards that currently don’t build warships. If we streamline procurement, and, of course, If Congress can finally bust Budget Control Act caps on spending. Those three obstacles, of course, have defied reformers for years.
And after we do all that, we still might not have the right 355 ships, two of the secretaries warned. Those small yards can build small vessels like the Littoral Combat Ship, but they will struggle to build large, complex combatants like destroyers. They definitely can’t build nuclear-powered submarines or aircraft carriers, the crucial capital ships of modern naval warfare.
If we mainly want a fleet for global presence patrols, that bottleneck doesn’t matter much because we can do that job with low-end warships. If we want to deter Russia and China with their rapidly modernizing militaries, however, we need high-end ones. The Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, has called for a stunning 38 percent increase in the attack submarine fleet in particular. What mix of ships we need ultimately depends on our strategy — and, so far, we don’t have one.
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