Navy wants Trump to prioritize readiness over building fleet

The Navy is trying to convey urgency for more readiness funding to the new Trump administration, despite President-elect Donald Trump’s call for a larger Navy.

In the whirlwind of nominations, meetings and talks about capacity building, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William Moran said the Navy wants its first extra dollar to go toward readiness.

“This is a long war we’ve been in, we’ve got emerging and reemerging threats that have all raised the stakes on making this long game even longer and we are not going to stay healthy if we don’t pay attention to our maintenance accounts,” Moran said during a Jan. 11 Surface Navy Symposium event in Arlington, Virginia. The “274 [ships], that 308 or that 350 is not going to be the same number at readiness funding levels that we have today.”

Moran said in his talks with the Trump transition team readiness came up more than any other topic, especially in the realm of ship maintenance and aviation maintenance.

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That spending recommendation is in contrast to Trump’s push for a 350-ship Navy — the U.S. currently has 274.

But Moran said maintenance is being put off in the current budget environment.

“Deferred maintenance is insidious, it takes a toll on the long-term readiness of the fleet,” Moran said. “When the transition team came around to all of us in the building and asked us what we could do with more money right now, the answer was not to buy more ships. The answer was to make sure the 274 that we had were maintained and modernized to make 275 ships worth of combat power, then we will start buying more ships.”

Moran mentioned two ships that lost a year of operational capability due to maintenance problems.

Moran said the Navy has its readiness budget number ready but is not releasing it yet.

The plan to build the Navy’s capacity to 350 ships would add about $750 billion over 30 years or about $25 billion a year, stated a Jan. 4 Congressional Budget Office study.

That isn’t to say the Navy wouldn’t want a larger fleet. Moran noted the Navy did several studies based on the needs of the combatant commanders and found a realistic number for meeting those demands was 350 ships.

Moran noted the Navy said it needed 316 ships in 2001, but it still operating at 274.

“I’m an English major, but I can do the math on that one pretty quickly and we’ve got 90,000 fewer sailors in the fleet than we did on 9/11. All that adds up to higher stress, deferred maintenance and higher costs,” Moran said.

The 2016 update to the Navy Force Structure Assessment, sent to Congress last week, asserts the service needs a fleet of 355 ships in order to adequately perform its missions.

The Navy said in a statement that the new force structure assessment “was not constrained by Budget Control Act funding levels” but insisted that “if funded, this plan is executable, as each ship class called for in the FSA has an active shipbuilding line already up and running.”

While talking with reporters, Moran pulled back the veil on what the transition looks like from inside the Pentagon.

“It’s a small [transition] team and they are going around to all the services, so you can imagine. They call in and they ask for a time to set aside for, you name the topic, ship maintenance, it could be modernization, it could be aviation, it could be personnel there are a lot of different topics,” Moran said. “At the executive level with the [Chief Naval Officer] and myself, we’ve only had a few meetings with the senior leadership of the transition team just to talk at the very high levels, but then we’ve had a whole number, I can’t even remember the number, of meetings over the last three or four weeks. We are kind of done now.”

As for the 2018 budget, the plan for how the Navy wants to allocate its resources is finished and submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).

Those numbers will be handed off to the transition team, who will decide how much they want redone. From there it will be sent a back to OSD and the Navy to rethink under the new parameters.