The Biden administration wants to enact sharp budget cuts to the U.S. Navy that would force it to prematurely retire almost a dozen ships and take offline critical missile systems that serve as a primary deterrent to Chinese aggression.
President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal would deal a massive blow to the already strained American Navy—the White House wants to prematurely retire eight ships and two combat vessels. By taking these ships out of action, the Navy would lose more than 600 vertical launch missile systems—a missile capability that serves as the primary deterrent to Chinese military attacks in the Pacific, according to congressional research provided to the Washington Free Beacon.
"The Biden Administration’s defense budget would hollow out our fleet and scrap Navy radars and missile systems we desperately need to deter China," Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, told the Free Beacon. "Prematurely retiring our ships sends exactly the wrong signal to China as they continue to build their own Navy at a historic pace."
Biden’s budget would decrease the total number of active Navy ships, retiring at least 11 ships while only requesting the construction of nine new vessels. The Navy currently has 294 battle force ships, far short of the 355 it is required to have by law. Biden’s budget would further reduce this number, according to information about the White House’s 2023 budget proposal codified by Wicker’s office.
China, meanwhile, expects to field more than 400 ships by 2025 amid a rapid growth plan that will modernize its fleet with aircraft carriers, guided missile destroyers, and surface combat vessels, according to American defense officials. China’s current fleet stands at around 340 ships.
The White House’s budget proposal disregards repeated requests from the Marine Corps for a minimum of 31 amphibious warships—which would serve a critical role in any military conflict with China. Three of these ships are being retired, and the Biden administration is expected to order a "strategic pause" in the purchase of modernized warships, leaving the force below its statutory requirement of 31 ships.
Rebeccah Heinrichs, a national security analyst with the Hudson Institute think tank, said the Biden administration "seems to be under the illusion that the PRC will be deterred by strongly worded government reports and joint pressers with allies."
"Navy and Marine leaders have said what they need to do that, and this White House has decided they know better," she said. "There is no way around the fact that building the Navy this country needs to deter China, and to win if war comes, will cost Americans money."
Internal disagreement on this issue within the Biden administration recently spilled into public view, when the Pentagon rejected a Navy proposal to build more ships that are capable of ferrying American troops and equipment into the Pacific region as a part of a strategic shift away from the Middle East.
Biden’s budget flattens the Navy’s shipbuilding request, providing just 2.5 percent growth over last year’s budget, a figure that does not keep up with inflation. The total new ship requests will also shrink from 12 to 9 and includes a halt in future years on construction of rescue and salvage ships, fast transport ships, and amphibious warfare ships, according to Wicker’s office.
By retiring 11 ships, the Navy would lose a sizable portion of its vertical launching system cells, which contain the missiles primarily used to deter Chinese attacks in the Pacific region, Wicker’s office says.
Biden’s budget also aims to reduce spending on naval reactors—which power nuclear-armed submarines—by 5.6 percent, or $1.96 billion, relative to last year’s budget, according to the budget information provided by Wicker.
These spending reductions will further strain America’s submarine industrial base, which is already facing pressure after the United States announced it will accelerate Australia’s provision of several nuclear-powered submarines.
"The president’s defense budget is, in practice, sinking our future fleet," Wicker warned in recent remarks.