Speaking at an event hosted by the RAND Corporation, US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called for an increase in funding for Navy shipbuilding. In the speech, Esper said he wants the Navy to have “over 350” ships. Currently, the US Navy’s battle force consists of approximately 293 ships, according to recent Pentagon numbers.
“To achieve this outcome, we must increase funding for shipbuilding and the readiness that sustains a larger force. Doing this, and finding the money within the Navy budget and elsewhere to make it real, is something both the Navy leadership and I are committed to doing,” Esper said.
Esper’s speech comes after the Pentagon released its annual report on China’s military power. The report says that China has the largest Navy in the world and has “an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines.”
The number of ships a country has is not the best way to judge overall naval power, and the US Navy far exceeds China’s Navy in terms of tonnage. One example of this is the number of aircraft carriers each nation has, with the US having eleven aircraft carriers, while China only has two.
Esper admitted as much in his speech on Wednesday. “Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the [People’s Republic of China] years to close the gap when it comes to our capability on the high seas,” Esper said. “Ship numbers are important, but they don’t tell the whole story.”
Despite Esper’s comments about Washington’s premier naval capabilities, the former Raytheon lobbyist still wants to increase the Navy’s budget, and China is serving as a useful competitor for the Pentagon to get more funds. “I tasked the military services to make China the pacing threat in all of our schools, programs and training,” Esper said.