WASHINGTON — Just about everybody in and around the U.S. Navy agrees there is a pressing need to build a bigger fleet. Just about nobody agrees on a way to get there.
It’s not yet clear what the overall goal will be — 355 ships, the latest figure put forth by the Navy to grow from today’s 308-ship fleet target — or the Trump administration’s oft-stated 350-ship fleet. No one knows how much the new fleet will cost because there have been no decisions on the new force’s makeup — how many submarines, aircraft carriers, big-deck amphibious ships, destroyers and the like will be needed.
No decisions have been reached on how or what to change from existing plans that all date from the previous presidential administration. No one is yet sure what those in power want — what their priorities are, what directions they want to take to reach yet-to-be-determined goals, even who the real players are. Some of those presupposed key players have yet to be named or nominated, much less put in office. There are no timelines yet for reaching any of those conclusions.
No one knows precisely what will be in the next budget because, for one, the Pentagon is still working on the fiscal 2018 budget which won’t be sent to Congress until mid-May, and secondly, Congress, trapped in a seemingly endless inability to pass timely defense budgets, still hasn’t finished work on the 2017 budget or moved on the 2017 supplemental requests. It’s hard to figure what to ask for next year when you don’t know what you’re going to get this year — but that’s what the Defense Department is dealing with.
The 2018 budget submission in May should also include details of the future years defense program, the near-term plan for what the Navy intends to do in each procurement program. In conjunction with the budget, a new 30-year shipbuilding fleet plan should also be submitted detailing the way ahead through 2038.
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