Biden Budget Forces Navy To Cut Construction of High-Tech Ships, Internal Memo Reveals

Defense cuts will likely mean fewer nuclear weapons, warships

Navy fighters / Getty Images
June 9, 2021

A dwindling budget will force the Navy to cut construction of next-generation warships and weapons, according to a memo by acting secretary Thomas W. Harker.

The memo, which was first obtained by USNI News on Tuesday, warned that constraints on defense dollars will leave the Navy in a position in which it "cannot afford" to build advanced platforms, many of which could prove crucial in confronting China. The memo specifically identifies sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles as ripe for cuts and says the Navy will have to choose to build either a destroyer, a submarine, or a fighter jet. The cuts will prevent the branch from building all three at the same time.

"The Navy cannot afford to simultaneously develop the next generation of air, surface, and subsurface platforms and must prioritize these programs balancing the cost of developing next-generation capabilities against maintaining current capabilities," the memo reads. "As part of the [2023] budget, the Navy should prioritize one of the following capabilities and re-phase the other two after an assessment of operational, financial, and technical risk."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R., Okla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.), respectively the ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, released a joint statement blasting the memo.

"Reports that an Acting Secretary of the Navy would cancel a new Nuclear Sea Launched Cruise Missile after submission of the [2022] budget … is bewildering and short-sighted," Rogers and Inhofe wrote. "The Biden administration has decided to project weakness ahead of a summit with Vladimir Putin—another gift to our adversaries. We have serious questions for senior Pentagon leaders on this reported decision and how it was reached."

Leaks of the incoming cuts come after the Biden administration released its 2022 defense budget, which critics say put much-needed upgrades for the Navy on the back burner. The proposal forces the Navy to cut 11 battle-ready ships and shrinks funds put aside to build boats and weapons by more than 5 percent. The Biden administration instead wants to invest in domestic programs such as universal Pre-K.

The budget signals a rollback of former president Donald Trump's plans to grow the fleet significantly, with one Trump administration plan calling for 500 vessels by 2045. President Joe Biden has not yet announced whom he will nominate for secretary of the Navy.

China is building its fleet at rapid speed. Sen. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.) said in a Tuesday hearing that he expects China to achieve a 460-ship navy by 2030. Beijing already touts the largest navy in the world, raising alarms for the United States's democratic allies in Taiwan. Retired admiral Phil Davidson, the former chief of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said in March that he expects China to possess enough strength to attack Taiwan in the next six years.