NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The U.S. Navy will submit another force structure analysis to Congress by mid-June that is likely to show a requirement for more ships compared to today’s target of 373 and actual inventory of 296, according to the service’s top officer.

During the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference here, Adm. Mike Gilday told Defense News on Monday that he believes the ongoing assessment will show the need for a larger fleet based on “what I see on a day-to-day basis with respect to demand, the wargames that I participate in, and what I believe to be the importance of the naval force in a maritime fight.”

As for the changing composition, he said the 2022 National Defense Strategy and classified force size and construct documents will inform the study.

“We see those guidelines come alive in defense planning scenarios that are really foundational to the analysis we do,” he said, without addressing what those changes may be.

Gilday last week told senators that “with respect to not only the size but the composition of the fleet, I would expect that to change from the last report, particularly in terms of composition.”

He added, in response to a question from Senate Appropriations Committee defense panel ranking member Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine: “I can’t see it getting any smaller than 373 manned ships.”

Collins noted in her question that the upcoming study must be submitted directly from the Navy to Congress, without being filtered through higher-ups at the Pentagon, to “empower the CNO” to convey the true requirement for a naval force.

The size of the fleet has been a major point of contention between the Navy and lawmakers in recent years. The Navy has for years conducted studies showing the need for more than 300 ships, then for 355 ships, and now for 373. The actual size of the fleet, on the other hand, has shrunk during that time. Lawmakers have pushed to buy more ships than the Pentagon-approved budgets have asked for across the last two presidential administrations, and lawmakers have pushed back against Navy plans to decommission ships early that have become too worn down and challenging to repair.

Gilday said at the hearing last week that “right now, we have 56 ships under construction and another 76 that are under contract. We can’t buy back time: For 20 years we were focused on ground wars, and understandably so. But the Navy wasn’t the priority. We started keeping old ships. Keeping old ships that are not usable or workable is not going to make us a strong navy.”

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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