THE PENTAGON — Defense Department leadership is staying mum about whether they think the Pentagon will get enough money to build and sustain a 355-ship Navy while top Navy and Army leaders argue over their share of the budget.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and his staff are in the midst of a review of how to fulfill the Pentagon’s mission as detailed by the National Defense Strategy that review includes evaluating the current mix of forces, chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said during a press briefing Friday.
“Part of our defense-wide review, part of our force posture review, is to see what type of forces we need for shifting under the NDS,” Hoffman said. “Everything we do is focused on the NDS and focused on China and the great power competition. So, we’re looking at what that number needs to be.”
The Navy’s leadership is using the NDS to validate its push for a more significant share of upcoming defense budgets. On Jan. 14, when speaking at the Surface Navy Association 2020 Symposium, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told the audience the Navy needs more money if the fleet is going to grow to 355-ships anytime soon.
“355 in 10? Sure, if we get the dough,” Gilday said.
Currently, the Navy has 293 ships. While the Navy is building new ships, the service also is retiring older ships. Without a significant increase in funding for shipbuilding to increase the pace of ship buying, achieving a 355-ship fleet is unlikely, experts agree.
During his symposium talk, Gilday cited the NDS as putting maritime missions high on the Pentagon’s priority list for countering China and Russia in great power competition. The NDS, he said, justifies the Navy’s claim it should get a larger slice of defense spending than the Army or Air Force, instead of what he called an annual one-third, one-third, one-third split of defense spending.
Army officials did not agree with Gilday’s assessment. A day later, various news outlets reported Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy disagreeing with the way defense funding is divvied up among the service branches.
“This is a tough fiscal environment,” he said. “I don’t want to get into fights with other services about topline budgets — everybody needs budget increases year to year — …but it is not a one-third, one-third, one-third split. Not even close,” McCarthy said at a press breakfast, according to a Breaking Defense account of the event.
Hoffman, at Friday’s Pentagon briefing, would not disclose any information about what Esper or the service branch chiefs expect will be in President Donald Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request.
“I can’t give you any comments on the budget. I can’t talk about the President’s budget until the President announces his budget,” Hoffman said. “We can have this conversation again in a couple of weeks how the FY 21 budget reflects the move to 355 ships.”