Tempting congressional ire, Navy plans to again offer 3 shipbuilding paths

Tempting congressional ire, Navy plans to again offer 3 shipbuilding paths
Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro departs the JS Izumo (DDH-183). (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ashley M.C. Estrella)

WASHINGTON — The Navy’s long-term shipbuilding plans will continue to include multiple pathways for Congress to choose from rather than setting out a single construction profile, the service’s senior civilian said, despite the backlash it provoked from lawmakers last year.

“Unless things change dramatically, I think it will… have three options in there and I think that’s a good strategy,” Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said during the McAleese Defense Programs conference on Wednesday. “It provides options for future leaders to be able to make decisions based on the current threat of the day.”

The Navy in its 30-year shipbuilding plan last year broke precedent by providing Congress with three potential pathways for future shipbuilding. Two options assumed little to no increase in overall defense spending and suggested around 300 ships by fiscal 2035, while the third planned on the Navy getting a significantly larger topline and targeting 326 ships by FY35. No official choice was made, but the eventual funding suggested lawmakers were more in line with the third option. Still, the choice itself irked some lawmakers who saw the move as indecision on the part of the Navy.

At the time, senior brass defended the choice as necessary due to “fiscal reality” and “uncertainty.”

The Navy’s new fiscal 2024 shipbuilding plan has not yet been released, although senior leadership in charge of crafting the budget said it would be delivered to the Hill in the coming weeks. When asked whether the new plan would continue the “three choices” route, Del Toro said it would and argued that the plan still provides industry with stability in the near term.

“Read the shipbuilding plan,” he said. “Look at the numbers associated with the plan and if you look at the numbers very carefully, you’ll see that in the [next] 10 years of that plan, the numbers don’t change, and that’s important because industry does need a steady signal of what our intentions actually are.”

The purpose of the long-range shipbuilding plan, which despite being statutorily required the Navy has a spotty record of delivering annually, is to give Congress and industry a clear road map of its plans for building warships, a process that takes years of advanced preparations.

Del Toro has also said that this year he intends to deliver a 30-year long-term infrastructure plan in an effort get a bird’s eye view of the service’s aging dry docks and bases.

“Whether it’s a dry dock, whether it’s Red Hill, whether it’s a barracks at Bethesda, we have to stay ahead of the problem. [That] is what [have] we got to do in the Navy, which is why I’m very proud actually of the actions that we took looking at the dry docks in the Puget Sound area,” he told reporters in February during the West 2023 annual conference.