President Joe Biden’s nominee to be secretary of the Navy on Tuesday said  he supports the goal of a 355-ship Navy and promised to only advance unmanned systems technologies when they are ready for use.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee at a confirmation hearing, Carlos Del Toro told Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that he agrees a 355-ship Navy and additional resources to deter China and other potential adversaries are necessary.

“This is an incredibly important issue and I fully support the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that has as a goal a 355-ship Navy,” he said.

“I believe that as our nation shifts from a land-based strategy over the past 20 years fighting the wars in the Middle East to a more dominant maritime strategy in the Pacific, particularly in our efforts to deter China, I do believe that our Navy-Marine Corps team will need additional resources to be able to fully field the combat effectiveness we will need as a nation to do so,” he added.

“And I am committed, in fact it is my responsibility, to make that case to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the administration moving forward in the Fiscal Year ‘23 budget, if confirmed.”

In response to similar questions noting China’s growing naval force from Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Del Toro said “first let me say senator that I do believe that China may have more numbers of platforms, but we are a more powerful and capable and experienced Navy than any other navy on the globe.”

“Having said that, we have to remain conscious of the fact that that naval superiority may not always be there either and we have to make the necessary investments in the Fiscal Year ‘23 budget to ensure that we abide by the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, as I said before, that’s committed to a 355-ship Navy and make those investments not just in numbers of platforms but capability and lethality,” he added.

Del Toro underscored this means investing in missile and hypersonic technologies, computing power, cybersecurity and “all those other technologies that are going to advance our ability to deter China in the Indo-Pacific.”

The nominee also vowed to Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that, if confirmed, he would ensure new unmanned systems technologies do not move forward too quickly but only when they are ready.

Del Toro said unmanned systems are critically important to combat effectiveness in future capabilities, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.

However, he said “it’s important first to ensure that we have the right concept of operations to fully integrate them with our existing concepts of operations for the use of naval military forces.”

“It’s equally important to ensure that they’re fully integrated with all of our existing platforms, air, surface and subsurface. And so it’s incredibly important…I will ensure that we do not advance those technologies until they’re ready to do so,” Del Toro continued.

The White House announced Del Toro’s nomination last month (Defense Daily, June 11).

Del Toro served in the Navy for 22 years. That time included being the first commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Bulkeley, Senior Executive Assistant to the Director for Program Analysis and Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Special Assistant to the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget. 

Since leaving the military, Del Toro has served as CEO and president of SBG Technology Solutions, which he founded in 2004. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Stimson Center, and was recently appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Special Commission on Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion.

If confirmed, Del Toro will relieve Thomas Harker, who has served in an acting position since Biden took office. He is the last of the three service secretaries announced by the Biden administration.