The Insider

Wicker: Rand Corp. report demonstrates need for 355-ship Navy

March 06, 2018 |
Justin Katz
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Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) today pointed to a Rand Corp. report warning the United States may lose its next war to argue the Navy must have a 355-ship fleet.

Wicker, the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee chairman, has been a vocal advocate for a larger fleet. Last year, he introduced legislation mandating the Navy reach 355 ships as soon as possible. Critics have argued the number of ships is not the best way to measure the effectiveness of the Navy.

Wicker today cited a December 2017 Rand report that said the United States is “failing to keep pace” with major adversaries such as China and Russia as proof the country needs a larger Navy. He said he has “gotten a bit tired” of Congress giving “lip service” to the fleet requirement.

“[Former President] Ronald Reagan could do it under [Navy] Secretary [John] Lehman, and the requirement back then was 600 ships,” Wicker said at a defense conference in Washington. “If they could do it then, we can do it now and we ought to do it now.”

Wicker also said the president’s budget request for shipbuilding is not “robust” enough. The fiscal year 2019 request seeks $22 billion for 10 new ships; Wicker said he wants a $26 billion request for 14 new ships. Historically, the shipbuilding account averages $16 billion per year, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Asked how he would spend Navy shipbuilding funds in the upcoming FY-18 omnibus spending bill, Wicker said he wants to build a ninth big deck amphibious ship and two Littoral Combat Ships and to complete the fleet’s 12th aircraft carrier faster than the anticipated 2060 timeframe.

Speaking at the same conference, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) called the 355-ship Navy a “fantasy.”

“We can barely predict what’s going to happen in two months from now,” he said. “Really? In 2050, you’re going to tell me how many ships we’re going to have?”

Smith was referring to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, released alongside the FY-19 budget request, which anticipates the fleet will reach 355 ships in the 2050s.