Wicker Reiterates the Need for a 355-Ship Navy

Seapower Chairman Delivers Speech on Readiness in Light of Recent Naval Collisions

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Seapower Subcommittee, told the Senate that the requirement for a 355-ship Navy is clear, especially in light of recent accidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and John S. McCain that took the lives of seventeen American sailors.

In response to these incidents, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, directed that a comprehensive review take place. On Tuesday, Wicker and other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have been briefed on those findings. The Navy is scheduled to make the review public later this week.

Wicker is the lead author of legislation to make it the policy of the United States to achieve a 355-ship fleet, based on the Navy’s force requirement. The “SHIPS Act” is included in both the House- and Senate-passed versions of the “National Defense Authorization Act,” which is awaiting action by a conference committee.

Key excerpts of Wicker’s speech include:

“The review makes it clear that we are not doing right by our sailors, or the Navy, or the taxpayers in terms of making sure these brave men and women have what they need. We need to work quickly with the Navy here in Congress to implement the recommendations that will be coming forward later this week.”

“We need to enhance training and readiness, and we need to recognize that the size of the fleet has contributed to the problem. Simply put, we need to acknowledge that the Navy has a supply-and-demand problem. We are asking too few ships to do too many things for American security, and that needs to be rectified.”

“The consequences of this supply-demand mismatch were summed up by naval analysts Robert C. O’Brien and Jerry Hendrix in a recent National Review Online article. They argue that the Navy is on the precipice of a ‘death spiral,’ wherein more overworked and damaged ships place an increasingly greater strain on the remaining operational ships, thus eroding readiness across the fleet. I agree with Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Hendrix that this situation will result in ‘more collisions, more injuries, and more deaths in the fleet.’ To avoid the death spiral, we need to commit to growing the Navy and meeting its minimum requirement of 355 ships.”

“As the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions have demonstrated, the short-term costs of ‘doing more with less’ are unacceptable. However, the long-term implications will prove devastating to American power and the global order that it underpins.”

“The U.S. military’s combatant commanders have identified 18 maritime regions where the Navy must secure American interests. Our current naval strategy is designed to command the seas in those regions. The Navy needs a minimum of 355 ships to get this done. If the Navy cannot get the bare minimum it needs, then our naval strategy must change, and I can assure you it would be a change for the worse. Instead of a global command of the seas, what we get would be a new, weaker strategy.”

“I know my colleagues in Congress want a different future. In fact, I am hopeful we can take the first steps this year toward building up the fleet. As former Navy Secretary John Lehman told our subcommittee, President Reagan ‘reaped 90 percent of the benefits of his rebuilding program … in the first year.’ It made it clear that President Reagan, Congress, and the Pentagon were serious about rebuilding the fleet. It sent a signal to our allies and the Soviets that the American Navy was coming back in a big way.”

“I was disappointed to hear that Acting Undersecretary Thomas Dee, an Obama holdover, say last week that 355 ships is probably out of reach until the 2050s. Mr. Dee’s pessimism about the Navy’s own requirement is perplexing, when it is incumbent on the Navy to develop fleet buildup options within budget constraints. Those ‘current and likely future fiscal environments’ were accounted for in the Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA) of 355 ships.”

“CNO Richardson’s white paper on the Future Navy notes that we ought to achieve a 355-ship fleet in the 2020s, not the 2040s or 2050s. Thank goodness for the foresight and positive attitude of the Chief of Naval Operations. He’s right: A 355-ship fleet should be our goal for the next decade. Regrettably, Acting Undersecretary Dee must have been asleep for the past nine months while Congress was talking about this and while we are on the verge of enacting legislation making a 355-ship Navy the official policy of the United States of America.”

“As O’Brien and Hendrix write, ‘navies and international influence go hand in hand.’ A smaller Navy means a smaller role for America, and we cannot afford that. We must cultivate the national will to avoid this fate. I urge my colleagues to help me in an effort to begin rebuilding our naval power.”