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Pentagon budget 2023: USN foresees dip in fleet size before ship-count increase in long term

The US Navy is requesting funds to buy two Virginia-class attack submarines in fiscal year 2023. (US Navy)

On 28 March, during the release of documents supporting their fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request, US Navy (USN) officials detailed plans that would result in a dip in ship count throughout the middle part of the decade, despite a Congressional mandate to create a much larger fleet in future years.

According to the USN officials, the service anticipates building a larger force later, but needs to cut the ship count to deploy a force that can face current adversaries and threats.

As of 17 March 2022, according to the documents, the USN showed a battle force of 298 ships, or three more than in FY 2021 – and one more than is projected for FY 2022. The service projects that number to roller-coaster before dropping throughout the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) – to 285 in FY 2023, 287 in FYs 2024 and 2025, 284 in FY 2026, and 280 in FY 2027.

Congress had mandated a 355-ship fleet.

The number of ships deployed in the future is unclear – there were 110 reported for FY 2021, 128 deployed as of 17 March 2022, and 114 for FY 2022. Later years were not predicted.

The ship-count drop is because of USN decisions to field a fleet it could properly support, Meredith Berger, performing the duties of under secretary of the navy, told reporters during a briefing when the FY 2023 request was released.

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