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Pentagon budget 2023: USN sees 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)

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

The service anticipates building that larger force later, the USN officials said, but needs to cut the ship count now 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 FY2021 – and one more than is projected for FY2022. The service projects that number to roller-coaster before dropping throughout the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) – to 285 in FY2023, 287 in both FY2024 and FY2025, 284 in FY2026 and 280 in FY2027.

Congress had mandated a 355-ship fleet.

The number of ships deployed is unclear in the future – there were 110 reported for FY2021, 128 deployed as of 17 March 2022 and 114 for FY2022. Later years were not predicted.

The ship-count drop is due to 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 FY2023 request was released.

β€œWe cannot budget for anything we cannot sustain over the budget,” she explained. β€œWhat it means in the short term is a more lethal, a more capable fleet. Over the longer term [the navy will have] a larger fleet.”

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