The future littoral combat ship USS Cincinnati embarks on acceptance trials. Acting U.S. Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said last week that the goal of a 335-ship Navy, up from the current 292 ships, is a valid goal in need of a plan. Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy
Dec. 9 (UPI) -- The goal of a 355-ship U.S. Navy is still an active policy in need of a plan, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said.
Modly confirmed Friday that the Navy continues to look to a 355-vessel fleet during a conference, but cautioned that if the goal is to be jettisoned a plan for the size of the fleet needs to be identified.
The goal "is stated as national policy," Modly told the U.S. Naval Institute Defense Forum in Washington, D.C, last week. "It was also the president's goal during the election. We have a goal of 355, we don't have a plan for 355. We need to have a plan, and if it's not 355, what's it going to be and what's it going to look like?"
Currently, the Navy is required by law to pursue a 355-ship fleet, though former Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said earlier this year that it may not be an attainable goal.
The figure was identified in a 2016 assessment report as appropriate, and was a 2016 campaign promise by President Donald Trump, but enlarging the Navy from its current 292 ships is an expensive undertaking, Modly said.
Modly told Bloomberg Government, however, that if the branch is to change the 355-ship goal, it will follow a force structure assessment expected in mid-January.
As the Navy works on its next budget request, Modly said the branch is making trade-offs to develop new weapons while cutting fat from its budget. And, he said redirecting funds from other efforts and spending it on growing the fleet will affect budget savings.
But if the Navy needs more funding to hit its goals, he said it should battle with the other service branches for funding if necessary.
"We ought to be lobbying for that and making a case for it and arguing in the halls of the Pentagon for a bigger share of the budget if that's what is required," Modly said. "But we have to come to a very clear determination as to what [355 ships] means, and all the equipment we need to support that."
There will likely be a tradeoff in funding and a possible change in the goal when the more detailed explanation of reaching the benchmark is released in January.
While all the service branches have been urged by the Pentagon to reduce costs, the Navy is eager to modernize and end outdated and aging programs.
Its intention to purchase a $1.2 billion frigate, one of two, is in its 2021 budget request. The Navy also seeks its first Columbia-class nuclear submarine and intends to develop hypersonic weapons and drone vessels.