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Navy plan to cut fleet comes under fire; Sen. Tim Kaine questions rationale

In the FY 2024 budget, the Navy proposes adding nine ships while decommissioning 11 ships, for a net loss of two vessels.

WASHINGTON — New questions are being raised about the Navy's plans to reduce the size of its fleet.

The idea came to light earlier this week when the Navy released details on its budget for Fiscal Year 2024.

The problem is, the math doesn't seem to add up.

The Navy hopes to add nine ships to the fleet next year but at the same time, eliminate 11 ships... which clearly won't help get the branch to reach its stated goal of 355 ships.

Two Hampton Roads-based ships would be decommissioned under the Navy's FY 2024 plan -- USS Gunston Hall and USS Vicksburg -- for which taxpayers just footed the bill for a $175 million upgrade two years ago.

Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee Chairman Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) isn't sold.

"There's some good aspects to the President's budget on defense, but there are also some real questions I have," he said. "I would say this: add nine warships but then take away 11 out of the fleet? We're going backwards and you're right. Both the Gunston Hall and the Vicksburg, we've spent money on those very recently. So I'm not sure about the rationale for this."

When Navy leaders come before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the weeks ahead to discuss their budget, Kaine said he intends to grill them.

"We will have the posture hearing with the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps coming up soon," he said. "I'm going to be asking about the +9, -11. Are we moving in the wrong direction?"

If all this has a familiar ring, it should. The Navy also tried to retire both the Gunston Hall and the Vicksburg last year but Congress defeated that effort and saved the ships.

Additionally, the Navy's 2024 budget does not appear to align with the needs of the Marine Corps. In fact, the budget would drop the amphibious fleet below 31 ships, in violation of a 2022 defense policy law. 

Kaine said he plans to challenge that plan, too.

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