Alt: The proposed naval budget is a national security concern

Griffin Alt, Columnist

On March 28, the Biden administration released its multi-trillion dollar budget proposal for fiscal year 2023. The budget came in at a whopping $5.8 trillion, but the defense allocation does not adequately address the current and evolving state of geopolitics.

Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine has caused many Americans to realize we are living in a very dangerous time. The Biden administration budgeted for $813 billion in defense spending — about a 1.5% real increase — with $180.5 billion directed to the Navy. 

Still, defense spending remains at 3.1% of the overall economy. This spending level is relatively low compared to recent years. It is a particularly concerning statistic considering only 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s thirty member-states are meeting the 2% of defense spending as a share of GDP threshold. 

Perhaps the most alarming statistic from the budget proposal is that the Navy, currently 298 ships strong, will purchase only nine new ships next year while decommissioning 24 vessels. In February, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday announced that to counter China’s growing influence in the Pacific, the U.S. must possess “a naval force of over 500 ships.” 

His proposal emphasized that the acquisition of more aircraft carriers and amphibious vessels is crucial to enable the United States and its allies to maintain a strategic advantage and operational readiness across the globe. The increase in fleet size would allow the United States to preserve its status as the predominant military power and ensure that shifting focus toward East Asia would not impact the Navy’s global commitments. 

On Monday, Rear Admiral John Gumbleton said the decision to decommission cruisers is  an effort to save $3.6 billion in maintenance costs over the next five years. If the Navy cannot justify upkeep spending, then the prospects of a vast increase in the fleet’s size seem improbable. In contrast, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has 355 major vessels and China expects to possess 420 ships in 2025 and 460 by 2030. Additionally, the PLAN has emphasized retiring “older, single-missions warships in favor of larger, multimission ships equipped with advanced” technology. 

The Biden administration and Department of the Navy should pay careful attention to how constant budget cuts and neglect by the U.K. Parliament to the Royal Navy have caused the idea that “Britannia rules the waves” to become a relic of a bygone era. Declines in Naval expenditure and strength made sense as the empire shrank, but the decline has placed Britain in a vulnerable position. The Royal Navy can no longer assemble a carrier strike group without the assistance of an ally or adequately defend their home waters. This has become a burden for the United States, which supports the Royal Navy. 

In the current political environment, where bipartisanship has all but vanished, the outcry from both sides of the aisle signifies the potential consequences of a weakened fleet. Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), a retired Navy commander, represents Norfolk, Virginia — home of the world’s largest naval station. She said on Twitter that the defense budget “sucks” and that she refrained from releasing a statement, “because frankly it would have been mostly full of words you might expect from a Sailor.” Democrats openly criticizing a Democratic president’s agenda demonstrates that this is not a matter of playing politics, but rather addressing a national security concern. 

Last week, dozens of Republicans, including veterans and Senate Armed Services Committee members Senators Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), sent a letter to President Joe Biden, calling Congress to build off the bipartisan support for increased military expenditure in the wake of aid provided to Ukraine. 

In the modern world, the operational capability of the American fleet outweighs the importance of size. However, a large fleet is still important and allows the United States to project its military power on the world stage. This is exactly what Theodore Roosevelt did when he sent the Great White Fleet on a fourteen-month voyage around the globe. 

At the end of the day, the job of the Department of the Navy is to ensure the United States possesses a strong naval force that allows it to achieve its strategic objectives and deter threats. The Navy must be provided with the ability to acquire all of the resources it needs, and this budget proposal is a step in the wrong direction.

Griffin Alt is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.