THE PENTAGON — An advocate for a 350-ship Navy and $20-billion annual shipbuilding budgets and a vocal opponent of Chinese aggression in the Western Pacific will likely be the pick for the next Secretary of the Navy in a Donald Trump Administration, USNI News has learned.
Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) is the person most likely to take the Department of the Navy’s top civilian position to lead the Navy and the Marine Corps, a person familiar with Trump’s national security team told USNI News on Wednesday.
“I don’t think there’s anyone else,” the source said.
While much of Trump’s national security policy is still forming, the specific goals he has given for the Navy echo positions Forbes has expressed.
In a September speech that discussed ballistic missile defense (BMD), Trump highlighted the controversial modernization of the decades-old fleet of Ticonderoga guided-missile cruisers as a priority for his future administration.
“We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The Obama-Clinton administration tried repeatedly to remove our cruisers from service, then refused to modernize these aging ships,” Trump said during a Sept. 7 speech in Philadelphia.
“We will start by modernizing our cruisers to provide the ballistic missile defense capability our nation needs; this will cost around $220 million per modernization [in 2010 dollars] as we seek to modernize a significant portion of these 22 ships. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years.”
The issues highlighted in Trump’s speech have been areas of focus for Forbes during his time as chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee,
Forbes has clashed with the Navy over the service’s cruiser phased modernization program and as the hearings on the rate the Navy was modernizing its Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers. He also was supportive of 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s 350-ship Navy plan that has also been put forth by the Heritage Foundation.
“The 350-ship navy, cruiser modernization – those naval planks [in Donald Trump’s policies] are lifted from Randy Forbes,” the source said.
That sized navy would be the driving force of an ongoing rebalance to the Pacific “with teeth,” the source said.
Forbes “is eminently qualified to be Secretary of the Navy,” Mackenzie Eaglen with the American Enterprise Institute think tank told USNI News on Wednesday. She said Forbes’ and Trump’s goals for the service would be similar to former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman and President Ronald Reagan – to put as many ships under contract as possible to plus up the Navy’s numbers quickly.
That would likely mean a reversal of Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s decision to cap the Littoral Combat Ship and frigate buy at 40 ships back to at least 52, speed up production of nuclear carriers and sustain or increase the production rate of two Virginia-class attack submarines a year.
Forbes has also called for an annual $20-billion-a-year shipbuilding budget.
As of Wednesday, the Navy has 272 deployable battle force ships with a goal of reaching 308 ships by the early 2020s, according to a 2014 force structure assessment (FSA) that matched the Navy’s capabilities with its national security responsibilities.
However, the Navy has submitted a new FSA total to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which is only ten percent lower than the 350 Forbes-Trump goal – or about 315, a U.S. defense official told USNI News on Wednesday.
“We need to move to about 346 to 350 ships. That will be a huge direction. Because by increasing that capacity and capability the next president is going to have more options on the table for threats, which means we have a better chance of not just being successful but of protecting American lives,” Forbes said in Oct. 29 interview with Defense News.
Before Trump’s victory, Forbes was serving out his term in the House after losing a Virginia primary battle in June following a redistricting ruling.