The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday it is “utterly nonsensical” to predicate the Navy’s future fleet plan for 2045 on meeting a goal for 500 ships and said the effort should instead focus on building in the necessary capability for future operational requirements.

“Seemingly, for as long as I’ve been a member on the Armed Services Committee, they’ve been talking about a 350-ship Navy. And we’ve never gotten there, we’ve never gotten particularly close,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters on Wednesday. “So, logically, you would look at this and say ‘maybe the 350-ship Navy isn’t the thing, maybe we should look at capabilities.’ Instead, they say if we can’t build 350 [ships] let’s build 500. That aspect of it is utterly nonsensical, to obsess about the number.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Mark Esper unveiled the new Battle Force 2045 fleet plan that calls for calls for building out a 500-ship fleet, including more attack submarines, adding light aircraft carriers and fewer nuclear-powered carriers, and many unmanned vessels (Defense Daily, Oct. 6). 

Smith said he wants to see the Navy meet its future force plan with targeted investments in next-generation capabilities required for a future fight rather than trying to meet a specific, pre-set number of ships.

“I’m not impressed by throwing numbers out there to make people feel like they’re being tough and strong. Capability is what matters not numbers, and that’s going to continue to be my focus,” Smith said. “If we’re heedlessly building a 500-ship Navy and gutting every other tool in our toolbox, then we will be less safe. An excessive reliance on military deterrence is a mistake in meeting our national security needs, in my view, and picking an artificial number for how many ships you need is an example of that mistake.”

Smith did note the Battle Force 2025 plan does include discussion of the sort of capabilities that would allow the Navy to be “survivable, to have command and control systems that will enable them to function and how to take advantage of the mobility of those ships.”