It’s Time to Ditch the Plan for a 300-Ship Navy: Former SecNav

Twenty-six ships from the U.S. Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, including ships from the George Washington Strike Group, steam together after the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword on Nov. 16, 2012, in the East China Sea. (Photo by Jennifer A. Villalovos/U.S. Navy)Twenty-six ships from the U.S. Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, including ships from the George Washington Strike Group, steam together after the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword on Nov. 16, 2012, in the East China Sea. (Photo by Jennifer A. Villalovos/U.S. Navy)

Much of the discussion these days about the proper size of the U.S. Navy centers on numbers and types of vessels within a 300-ship fleet: Should the sea service have 38 or 50 amphibious ships? Should it have 40 or 52 littoral combat ships?

But a former secretary of the Navy says the focus on a 300-ship fleet only obscures more accurate measures of capability and presence.

Speaking at the AFCEA West Conference in San Diego last week, Sean O’Keefe, who served in the office under President George H.W. Bush from 1992-1993, said Congress and Navy brass were becoming too focused on the total number of ships in the fleet when they should be taking other factors into account. The service’s current strategy will build to more than 300 ships by the end of the decade, up from 272 today.

“The resignation of one of my predecessors, Jim Webb, was prompted at what he thought was the outrage of falling below the 600-ship Navy,” O’Keefe said. “You look back on it as if it was the seminal moment of some strategic shift and it wasn’t. It was less a statement of capability and more of just a marker on the wall of what’s a measure of merit.”

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Hope Hodge Seck
Hope Hodge Seck is a reporter at Military.com. She can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.