What does a 355 ship Navy mean?

The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group, from NavyTimes.com

The US Navy is locking horns with Congress and the other services, trying to build to 355 ships, which it needs to fight China and Russia in any sort of future conflict. Despite the recent claim about rebuilding our military at the State of the Union, the current Navy is in a bit of disrepair, mainly from being run ragged around the world without enough shipyard time to make repairs. 355 ships would make a huge difference, but its not achievable with the current budget structure.

But when we say 355 ships, what does that mean? Currently, the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers, 34 amphibious ships, 22 cruisers, 12 littoral combat ships, 68 destroyers (including Zumwalt class), 52 fast attack submarines and 4 SSGNs, plus 14 SSBNs. That brings us to 102 surface warships and 70 submarines. On the support ship side, we have 78 ships. Navy official website says 294 “Battle Force Ships” and 338,114 personnel.

If we look at the last time we had 355 ships, it would be 1997. Back then, we had 20 more surface ships, 21 more submarines, 2 more carriers and 7 more amphibious vessels. Back in 1997, we had 398,847 personnel. Doing my napkin math based on the current way we man ships, that isn’t far off from what we would need.

Image captured from Navy History Website

I put battle force ships in quotes because the Navy came under fire for counting ships differently. When ship count dropped a lot, Congress got (rightfully) concerned that we didn’t have enough vessels to do our tasking. Navy came back with some new counting that made Common Core math look good. So, if you think 355 ships means 355 warships, then we need to flash back to 1992.

I count 343, including amphibious ships but excluding mine warfare, patrol and auxiliary ships. Back in 1992, the Navy had 576,047 personnel.

We’ve gained some efficiencies in how we man ships, but not orders of magnitude more. The crew size on a current DDG is 329 personnel. A Spruance Class destroyer from the 90’s had a complement of 335 personnel. Other ships are similar, and in many cases need more personnel to run the advanced equipment onboard.

If we think war with China is a coming reality, we need to start expanding our Navy now, or there is little hope to stop China from walking all over countries in their first and second island chains. Representative Carl Vinson saw that in 1934, we had lost too much ground to the Japanese Navy, and pushed through a number of bills to authorize what would eventually become a two ocean Navy. Japan’s Navy went from one of the largest in the world to utter destruction in only 4 short years, thanks to Congress’ foresight in building new warships quickly. We need that same foresight today.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.

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