America’s Naval Strategy Doesn’t Match Its Budget

Late last year the U.S. Navy (with the Marine Corps and Coast Guard) released an integrated, tri-service strategy for maintaining sea control and power projection as well as the resolve “to compete, deter, and win” against China. The document, “Advantage at Sea,” sought to fulfill its title—first and foremost—by “accelerating the development of a larger, more lethal future fleet.” A technologically capable navy backed with a greater capacity was the best way to compete with China, the document proposed, after extensive wargaming (and a separate study by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper) recommended a naval force of at least 355 ships, with an emphasis on submarines, smaller combatants, and unmanned platforms.

Although the Navy needs to prioritize capabilities and then capacity, the Biden administration’s naval budget prioritizes current readiness (at 34.2 percent) at the expense of research and development (i.e., capabilities) and procurement (i.e., capacity). The proposed FY22 budget funded readiness at a year-to-year increase of 2.2 percent through shipbuilding cuts of 8.7 percent. It should be noted that the readiness increase occurred despite the fact that the costs of provision for twenty-four or fifty-eight days underway per quarter were the same as FY21. So, for a navy dedicated to renovating itself in size and skill to counter China, a budgetary increase for readiness—with no increase in underway replenishment figures or the number of ships—should raise eyebrows.

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