- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2020

President Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. Secretary of the Navy on Thursday said that the Navy’s fleet needs to include at least 355 ships — the holy grail for a service looking to reclaim its unchallenged pre-eminence on the seas.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his nomination hearing, Kenneth Braithwaite, the current U.S. ambassador to Norway, told chairman James Inhofe that he hopes to build past the prized goal.

“Sir, [the fleet] needs to be minimally 355 ships. Hopefully we build beyond that,” he said.

“That’s a good, brief answer. I appreciate that. I won’t ask why because I agree with you,” Mr. Inhofe responded.

Lawmakers have become increasingly critical of delays in the Navy’s program to rebuild the fleet. Former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly told a House panel earlier this year that any shipbuilding funding that would be sidelined for other programs will hinder the service’s mission to achieve a 355-ship fleet.

In February, the Trump administration proposed to move Pentagon funds to pay for a Mexican border wall and nuclear modernization, a diversion that was set to eat into the Navy’s shipbuilding funds.

Cuts to maintenance and modernization programs have sparked an intense backlash from lawmakers, most notably the Navy’s budget request that allocates nearly $20 billion for just eight new ships — but not all of which can be used in combat.

The Navy currently has a 295 deployable battle fleet. Defense officials have repeatedly insisted that their target is a fleet of 355 ships to preserve readiness, but the existing budget deviates from the 2020 authorization that approved funding for 12 new ships.

Mr. Braithwaite told the committee that if confirmed, he will “look to a role as being the chief advocate to build a fleet of greater than 355 ships.”

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