The Budget (and Fleet) That Might Have Been

When the U.S. military was engaged in multiple ground wars in Asia, advocating for a larger ground force didn’t seem like a parochial idea. But, somehow, as defense officials shift their focus to competition with China in a theater that is dominated by water, some Army officers see advocating for more ships as the height of Navy parochialism. Some have responded to that imagined slight with ahistorical claims that “war is won, and peace is preserved, on land.” But the Indo-Pacific is a maritime theater. It is not parochialism to acknowledge that fact and adjust defense budgets to address that reality. Today’s Navy does not have the ships required to execute the U.S. national strategy in a time of relative peace and security, let alone in a future defined by competition and the threat of great-power war. The Biden administration’s Fiscal Year 2022 defense budget was an opportunity to arrest the Navy’s decline and recapitalize the fleet to address this uncertain future. Instead, its authors elected to perpetuate a status quo that would see the fleet continue to wither, while the competition surges ahead.

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