The Navy lost nine ships from its total count, dropping from 284 to 275 on March 2 due to political maneuvers in Congress.
Last year, in March, the Navy boosted its count from 283 ships to 290. This prompted Congress to include language in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act to the effect that the Navy must return to its old methodology of classifying what makes a ship part of the fleet, which is what accounts for the recent drop to only 275 ships, Defense News reports.
“Ship counting changes reflect direction outlined in the 2015 act,” Navy spokesman Lt. Rob Myers stated on March 6, 2015, according to Defense News. “The change in the numbers does not reflect an actual change in our ship inventory; rather, what has changed is the counting methodology, which excludes certain ships such as patrol coastal ships and hospital ships. Despite these changes, we affirm our commitment to reaching over 300 ships by the early 2020s and this is reinforced by ship procurement in our 2016 budget submission.”
Ship recounting is a routine political strategy, often involving both Congress and the Navy fighting over which ships should be counted in total fleet numbers. Disagreements are usually limited to whether deployed patrol coastal vessels or hospital ships should be eligible when deployed, rather than whether submarines or destroyers ought to be included. The Navy’s rationale is that when hospital ships are deployed, they constitute support of battle force goals.
Additionally, within Congress is the issue of traditional partisan dynamics. Democrats prefer to boost the perceived strength of the fleet as a political point for the Obama administration, while Republicans have every incentive to forward a tight fleet definition, in order to point to the need for expansion.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Adm. Jon Greenert continue to avoid listing precisely the number of ships in the service’s fleet when giving testimony before Congress, since ships are often sidelined for upgrades. The Navy definitely doesn’t want any part of the fleet to be thought of as being outside the deployable force. No legislators have called them on it so far.
Mabus’ notification to Congress in March 2014 said at the time that reclassification of hospital ships, a transport ship, and 10, 331 ton Cyclone class patrol craft was about consistency and ensuring the service could carry out the demands made upon the Navy by the Defense Strategic Guidance.
Congress’ recent reclassification mandate in the NDAA, makes it the winner of the ship recounting game, at least for this round.