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Harold Hutchison / Oct. 1, 2020

An Ambitious Navy Ship Goal Is Just the First Step

The time to rebuild and resupply our once-great Navy is long overdue.

Dealing with the ever-growing military threat posed by China is perhaps our nation’s biggest national security challenge. And it’s a challenge made more serious by the years-long decline of the United States Navy.

The numbers tell the tale: In 1991, our Navy boasted 529 ships, 15 of which were aircraft carriers. By 2016, we had just 275 ships, 10 of which were carriers. In addition, we’re feeling the effects of the Obama administration’s foolish decision to scrap older carriers that could still have been useful.

For more than a quarter-century, between the Cold War “peace dividend,” the Global War on Terror, and Barack Obama’s budgetary axe, the Navy has taken some serious hits — both in shipbuilding and maintenance. Granted, the ships we do have are technologically advanced, but that technology can’t put a single ship in two places at once.

It seems the Navy, though, has finally begun to face reality and get serious about having enough hulls in the water. According to a UPI report, the Navy is increasing its goal for the fleet from 355 ships to as many as 534 — and none too soon.

We recently noted that the Navy’s desperate need for surface combatants called for a massive frigate buy, since carriers can’t just operate alone. Our failure to buy into Spain’s Alvaro de Bazan-class guided missile frigates and Denmark’s Absalon-class support ships, combined with our failure to produce sufficient numbers of Zumwalt-class destroyers, looms large.

But simply buying the hulls won’t be enough. The ships are useless without enough sailors to crew them or enough missiles to maximize their lethality. They’ll also need substantial improvements in infrastructure — both for construction and maintenance.

And our Navy shouldn’t be choosing between the purchase of new amphibious assault ships and the fixing of, for example, the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). We should be doing both.

Setting a goal for a sufficient fleet of modern ships can help return our nation to its once-dominant position on the high seas. But that’s only a goal, and only a start. The real work will be reaching the ideal force in both number and structure — and committing to keeping it there.

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