Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro has said ships that can’t combat threats to the service are dead weight — comments that come as the force seeks to decommission 24 ships next fiscal year.

When asked what the Navy is doing to grow the fleet, Del Toro said it’s outfitting ships with the right capabilities to accomplish their missions — something he considers “far more significant to me than anything else.”

“It just doesn’t do me good to have lots and lots of ships that aren’t effective against the actual threat itself,” Del Toro said at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference on Tuesday. “It’s a combination of the right capacity, right capability to deliver the right lethality where we need it.”

The Navy’s fiscal 2023 budget request, unveiled March 28, requests nine ships including two Virginia-class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Constellation-class frigate and one America-class amphibious assault ship.

It’s also asking to decommission 24 ships from the fleet — 16 of which would retire prior to the end of their service lives. Included in that group are nine Freedom-variant littoral combat ships, one cruiser and two expeditionary transfer docks.

The plan would see the fleet reach a size of 280 by FY27 — well under the 355 ships congressionally mandated in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

Meredith Berger, who is currently performing the duties of Navy undersecretary, told reporters last month the service is still aiming for 355 ships, “but first and foremost it’s making sure that we have a fleet that has the right mix of capability, lethality, and something that we are able to sustain and support.”

It’s unlikely Congress will support the decommissioning of 24 ships, as lawmakers have historically criticized the Navy for failing to expand its fleet amid a lack of maritime strategy.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., has said the Navy and the Biden administration’s absence of strategy is restricting the service from reaching its target size.

“I just cannot beat the drum enough that we need to continue to grow the fleet,” Luria said at the Association of the U.S. Navy’s Legislative Awards ceremony in February. “The truth is, we really need to frame the reasons behind why we need this fleet.”

The Department of the Navy requested $230.8 billion for FY23, $9.1 billion more than last year’s enacted budget.

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