NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – This week the Chief of Naval Operations defended the Navy’s fiscal year 2023 budget request fleet additions by comparing his focus on a credible and supportable force with Russian focus on numbers, which has served them poorly in its invasion of Ukraine. 

 “I think as you take a look at our budget proposals, they are consistent…with the strategic guidance that the Secretary of Defense has given us in the [National Defense Strategy] that’s about to drop,” Adm. Michel Gilday said here Monday during the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo. 

He said the budget proposals focus on China as a pacing threat, fielding and investing in a combat-credible force that can deter and using the joint force to deter on a day-to-day basis.

“With respect to the size of the force, so the Navy’s priorities are and have been steady for the past three to five years.  Readiness, modernization, and capacity – in that order.  I think that those priorities have served us exceedingly well.  Why?  Because we need a ready capable lethal force more than we need a bigger force that’s less ready, less lethal, and less capable,” Gilday said.

“In other words, we can’t have a Navy or a Marine Corps larger than one we can sustain. That’s important.  So, let’s keep it real with respect to what we’re going to field out there,” he continued.

Gilday favorably compared that focus to pure capability of numbers of what Russia is using in its invasion of Ukraine.

“If we want to talk just about capability and you want a force that can’t – that’s ineffective, take a look at the 125 BTGs that Vladimir Putin has positioned around Ukraine.  That’s not the force that any of us want.  And so, the investment strategy – if we want to flip that and make capacity king, you’ll end up with a force like that because you’ll pay for it with people, with ammunition, with training, and with maintenance.”

A Russian BTG is a battalion tactical group with up to about 800 personnel each.

Gilday argued that given the Navy’s topline budget, its fleet decisions and divestment choices are based on trying to make investments for the future and properly maintain the force.

The Navy’s FY ‘23 budget request seeks finding to buy eight new ships while retiring 24, including nine Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), five Ticonderoga-class cruisers, four Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ships, two submarines, two oilers, and two Expeditionary Transfer Dock ships (ESD) (Defense Daily, March 28).

“We are trying to divest of those, given our topline and given the fact that we can only have so many ready ships that are manned properly, that are trained properly, that have ammunition in their magazines, that have the proper maintenance.  In order to do that, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions about divesting of some platforms.  It’s more than just a numbers game.  It is a capabilities and a numbers game about fielding a combat-credible force that can deter,” the CNO said.

He noted the Navy investment side of the budget is trying to max out the production line of several long-range weapons: advanced capability torpedoes, the Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Standard Missile (SM)-6 1B, Raytheon Maritime Strike Tomahawk, Lockheed Martin [LMT] AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range (JASSM-ER), and AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).

Gilday also underscored the Navy is investing in microwave and laser technology to defend the fleet and reiterated hypersonic weapon investments plans to field the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) on Zumwalt-class destroyers by 2025 and on Virginia-class Block V attack submarines by 2028

“I personally think they’re on the right path.  That path is not popular with everybody in this room – it’s certainly not on the Hill – but I believe it’s a responsible path.  And I think it both fields a force today that’s ready to go and it invests in a force mid-century and beyond – mid-decade and beyond that will serve us well.”

The CNO said when looking at investments the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard combined  are making over the next five years in the budget and what it will field later this decade, from 2028 to 2032, “those transitions we’re making to a force design that’ll really, we hope, come alive in the 2030s for all of us…this is an evolutionary process for all of us.  I think our budgets – our budget proposals and what we’re fielding reflect that.”