U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has some ideas for how the U.S. Navy can expand from today’s 290 front-line ships to 355 over the next decade.
Esper told Defense News reporters Aaron Mehta and David Larter he is “fully committed” to a larger fleet. He said the key to growing the fleet is what he called “lightly-manned” vessels that require fewer crew than today’s ships do.
“We can go with lightly manned ships, get them out there,” Esper said. “You can build them so they’re optionally manned and then, depending on the scenario or the technology, at some point in time they can go unmanned.”
“That would allow us to get our numbers up quickly, and I believe that we can get to 355, if not higher, by 2030,” Esper added.
The Navy long has wanted to grow its “battle force” in order to keep pace with the fast-expanding Chinese fleet. For much of Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency, the goal was 308 ships. In 2016, Obama’s long-time Navy secretary Ray Mabus announced a new goal of 355 ships.
Pres. Donald Trump’s administration maintained that policy. The Navy had around 280 front-line ships when Trump took office in early 2017.
But one Congressional shipbuilding expert told The National Interest, on condition of anonymity, that quickly growing the Navy simply by buying new vessels "would be impossible."