Mark Esper outlines plan for 355-ship Navy, calls for more focus on China

Sept. 17 (UPI) — Defense Secretary Mark Esper this week described plans to build out the Navy’s fleet to 355 ships or more and find more funding to counter China’s naval forces.

In an address to the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif., Esper said the Department of Defense needs to increase funding for shipbuilding and to focus more on countering China’s drones.

“In addition to developing traditional weapons systems, Beijing is also investing in long-range, autonomous, and unmanned submarines, which it believes can be a cost-effective counter to American naval power,” Esper said.

The plan grew out of this summer’s Future Navy Force Study.

The study was undertaken to replace the Navy and Marine Corps’ own shipbuilding plan, which the Pentagon rejected earlier this year, with officials saying the branch did not have a credible path to building a fleet of 355 ships or more.

Esper said this week that he met with Deputy Defense Secretary Savid Norquist to talk about their findings. Calling the results “a game-changer,” he said the work will result in “a balanced force of over 355 ships — both manned and unmanned — and will be built in a relevant timeframe and budget-informed manner.”

Esper pointed to the example of a $795 million contract the Navy awarded in April purchase the first ship of a new class of guided missile frigates.

“This is the first new major shipbuilding program the Navy has sought in more than a decade,” Esper said. “These combatants will support the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations, with increased lethality, survivability, capability, and capacity to conduct distributed warfare — a key requirement borne out by the Future Naval Force study.”

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