Senate Takes Action on U.S. Navy’s Shipbuilding Crisis as Chinese Naval Power Grows


The U.S. Navy is facing a shipbuilding crisis that threatens the safety of our nation and military personnel in an increasingly dangerous world if left unaddressed.

This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee is discussing the National Defense Authorization Act, a crucial piece of legislation passed annually since its creation. It is imperative that the committee, which includes me, tackles this shipbuilding issue within this act. My colleagues and I, across party lines, have proposed numerous amendments to the NDAA to address this crisis. Congressional intervention is necessary because President Joe Biden and his Navy secretary have not taken sufficient action.

Recently, I led a bipartisan Senate delegation to the Indo-Pacific, where the strength of our Navy is vital to our security and that of our allies. The decline in American shipbuilding power was a significant concern. While speaking with the new Taiwanese president, Chinese military ships were surrounding the island democracy.

China’s navy has expanded rapidly, currently boasting around 370 warships and projected to exceed 400 by 2027 — the year Chinese President Xi Jinping has instructed his forces to prepare for a potential invasion of Taiwan.

In stark contrast, under Biden, the U.S. Navy has decreased to just 293 ships and is expected to reduce further to 280 by 2027, potentially leading to a dangerous 120-ship deficit compared to China.

After persistent pressure from Congress, Biden’s Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro recently completed a review of the Navy’s struggling shipbuilding programs, and the findings were grim. Five major programs — including the Columbia-class submarine, the Constellation-class frigate, the Ford-class aircraft carriers, and the Block IV and Block V Virginia-class submarines — are all delayed by one to three years.

Had the Navy secretary been effectively performing his duties, this report would have been released two years earlier. However, Del Toro has been sidetracked from his essential missions of warfighting and shipbuilding, prioritizing issues like climate change. In his nomination hearing, he dedicated significant attention to the “climate crisis” without mentioning shipbuilding, lethality, or warfighting. Similarly, in his strategic guidance for the Navy and Marine Corps, climate change was mentioned nine times, while there was no mention of expanding the U.S. fleet during these perilous times.

Consequently, Del Toro has yet to present a clear plan to address the shipbuilding crisis.

The Navy secretary’s duties, outlined under Title 10 of the United States Code, emphasize maintaining, training, and equipping combat-ready Naval forces to win wars, deter aggression, and ensure freedom of the seas. Addressing climate change is not included in these responsibilities.

Last month, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the U.S. Navy’s posture and readiness, I questioned the commandant of the Marine Corps and the chief of naval operations about leadership and accountability. Both confirmed that military commanders are relieved when they fail their duties.

I then asked the Navy secretary, “If a Marine platoon commander is relieved for losing a rifle and a Navy captain is relieved for a collision while asleep, should the Navy secretary be relieved or resign for failing his primary mission — shipbuilding?”

He was not pleased with the question.

In my 30 years of public service, I’ve never seen the U.S. Navy’s readiness so low, and this concern is shared across both parties. Many experts have highlighted how unprepared our Navy is for global challenges, particularly in the crucial Indo-Pacific region, including Alaska. Recently, the Congressional Research Service experts stated that “the U.S. Navy is in its worst state for designing, building, maintaining, and crewing ships in over 40 years.”

My amendments to the NDAA aim to address this crisis by requiring the Navy to provide more predictable procurement profiles, enabling industry to invest in capital and workforce development, increasing the Admiral’s tenure who oversees ship design and procurement, and identifying potential locations for two additional shipyards west of the Panama Canal.

With advanced computer-aided design, we can also utilize skilled inland workers to build modular Navy ships, with major components constructed in regions from Wisconsin to Alaska and then assembled on the coasts.

Since the Navy secretary has not fulfilled his responsibilities, Congress must step in to uphold its Article I constitutional duty “to provide and maintain a Navy.” As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the ranking member of the Readiness and Management Subcommittee, I am committed to ensuring this.

Sen. Dan Sullivan
Sen. Dan Sullivan
Daniel Scott Sullivan is an American politician and attorney serving as the junior United States senator from Alaska since 2015. A member of the Republican Party, Sullivan previously served as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources from 2010 to 2013, and as the Alaska Attorney General from 2009 to 2010. Sullivan also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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