Navy plan would expand fleet to 313 ships by 2020

December 05, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The Navy wants to increase its fleet to 313 ships by 2020, reversing years of decline in naval shipbuilding and adding dozens of warships designed to defeat emerging adversaries, senior Defense Department officials say.

The plan by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who took over as chief of naval operations last summer, envisions a major shipbuilding program that would increase the 281-ship fleet by 32 vessels and cost more than $13 billion a year, $3 billion more than the current shipbuilding budget, the officials said Friday.

While increasing the fleet size is popular with influential members of Congress, the plan faces various obstacles, including questions about whether it is affordable in light of ballooning shipbuilding costs and whether the mix of vessels is suitable to deal with emerging threats, like China's expanding navy.

"We are at a crisis in shipbuilding," a senior Navy official said. "If we don't start building this up next year and the next year and the next year, we won't have the force we need." The officials would not agree to be identified because the plan had not been made public or described to members of Congress.

The Navy's fleet reached its Cold War peak of 568 warships in 1987 and has been steadily shrinking since then. Mullen's proposal would reverse that, expanding the fleet to as many as 325 ships over the next decade, with new ships put into service before some older vessels are retired, and finally settling at 313 between 2015 and 2020.

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