Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget

Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget
© Getty Images

Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned President Trump’s promise to build the Navy to a 350-ship-plus fleet, grilling service officials on the administration’s fiscal 2018 budget and its lack of capital for such a feat.  

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Ryan: Graham-Cassidy 'best, last chance' to repeal ObamaCare Collins skeptical of new ObamaCare repeal effort MORE (R-Maine) asked acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley about the White House fiscal 2018 budget, released Tuesday, which asks for eight new vessels. Such a request, she pointed out, had already been planned under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Dems fear lasting damage from Clinton-Sanders fight Iran's president warns US will pay 'high cost' if Trump ditches nuclear deal MORE.

“As I look at this budget, it appears to continue President Obama's 30-year shipbuilding plan and does not seem to reflect the latest assessment by the Navy, which has also been endorsed by the president,” Collins said at a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.

Trump promised on the campaign trail and shortly after taking office to quickly increase the fleet from its current level of 275 ships to 350. Navy leaders have supported a larger fleet built faster than the last administration-projected goal of 308 ships by the 2040s.

Collins asked whether the Navy’s budget request was cut by the White House Office of Management and Budget. Stackley denied a cut and said the budget priority was to maintain and improve the current fleet, then inject more money in the fiscal 2019 request.

“The best way to increase, whether it's your ship count or your aircraft count, on deployment in theater where you need it, is to raise the readiness of the in-service fleet. And that's the priority in this budget,” Stackley replied.

He added that Navy officials are looking to the '19 budget “to build on this foundation.”

Included in the '18 plan is $4.6 billion for the Navy’s next Ford-class aircraft carrier, $5.5 billion for two Virginia-class submarines, $4 billion for two DDG-51 destroyers and $1.2 billion for one Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Proponents of a larger Navy were most critical of the single LCS, but later in the day acting Navy acquisition chief Allison Stiller told a House Armed Services subcommittee that the White House is “supportive” of buying two of the ships. 

“The administration recognizes the criticality of our industrial base and supports funding a second LCS in FY-18,” Stiller said.

Sho could not say how an additional LCS would be paid for.  

And at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee also Wednesday, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisGrassley: 'Good chance' Senate panel will consider bills to protect Mueller Senate plans hearing for bills to protect Mueller GOP puts brakes on Trump's DACA deal with Democrats MORE (R-N.C.) questioned industry’s suggestions that the government enact measures to help them meet expanded shipbuilding demand.

"The last time I would have heard any of these things being said about policies coming out of Capitol Hill, disco and leisure suits were still popular,” Tillis said.