The Pentagon’s target fleet size could move from 355 ships to as many as 530. Defense News reports documents from the future Navy force study show the Defense Department could push for a bigger fleet with a new emphasis on smaller and lightly manned vessels.
This expansion in numbers would suggest Defense Department leaders are “trying to sort of create confusion in our competitors’ minds, namely China, but also to a lesser extent Russia,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “The thinking here is that more numerous, even in some cases they’re slightly less capable ships, but they can be dispersed and distributed.”
This would support the type of presence Defense Secretary Mark Esper has indicated he wants to move towards, according to Eaglen. She said Esper “wants the force to be flexible, fewer permanently forward deployed forces, more pop-up and rotational and surprise exercising forces.” Eaglen also said this would be a fundamental shift from a presence Navy to “more of a warfighting navy, and I don’t think that debate has been settled inside the Department fully, as thoroughly as it’s settled with Capitol Hill.”
The question of how we will pay for the increase in fleet size is also a concern. According to Eaglen, Esper wants Congress to approve allowing expiring funds at the end of the year to automatically roll over into the Navy shipbuilding account. He also wants more funding for Navy shipbuilding in general.
Eaglen believes it is possible, because there is political will to make the change and plenty of support in Congress. “If the White House could figure it out, Congress could support it,” she said.