It was a compelling image in 1982: The president of the United States standing in the shadow of the battleship New Jersey's enormous 16-inch guns, recommissioning the World War II behemoth for a final run in the fleet — the centerpiece of Ronald Reagan's famed goal of a 600-ship Navy.

Navy leaders say there probably won't be a similar ceremony for President Trump on the decks of the now-mothballed cruisers and destroyers sitting on the banks of the Delaware River in Philadelphia. In a recent interview, the admiral in charge of building and maintaining the Navy's fleet told Defense & Aerospace Report that the mothballed fleet at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was probably not going to be a vital factor in getting the Navy to its goal of 355 ships — up from its current 275.

Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of Naval Sea Systems Command, told Defense & Aerospace Report's Vago Muradian that most of the ships in the inactive fleet are too far gone to make a major revival worth it. Some analysts have floated the idea of revitalizing the CG-47-class cruisers Ticonderoga, Yorktown and Thomas S. Gates, easing the burden on the Navy's strained and fast-wearing cruiser force.

But Moore said the cruisers are not easy to bring back and have been picked over in recent years.

"Most of those ships, from a combat systems perspective, are pretty obsolete," Moore said. "We probably wouldn't bring them back and they've kind of been spare-parts lockers the last couple of years." 

Moore said the frigates, which had largely been used for low-end counter-drug and partner-support missions, might be OK to bring back. The carrier Kitty Hawk remains a possibility as well.

"We’ll go look at the FFGs, see if there is utility there," Moore said. "We’ll look at the combat logistics force, see if there’s utility there. Of the carriers that are in inactive force, probably Kitty Hawk is the one that you could think about. But we studied that when we decommissioned Enterprise, and the carriers are pretty old. So, there is limited opportunity in the inactive fleet but we’ll look at it ship-by-ship."

Bringing back inactive ships is an incredibly expensive process and wouldn't give the Navy a lot of utility in return, said Bryan Clark, a retired Navy officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

"You could do that but what you'd get is essentially a frigate, capable of low-end missions. What you're not getting is a lot of capability — it's not going to be a ballistic missile defense shooter on patrol in the eastern Mediterranean."

The Navy announced in December that it had raised its ship-count goal from 308 to 355, five more than President Trump targeted while on the campaign trail. It's unclear, however, how the Navy plans to get there, with a number of programs like the littoral combat ship and DDG-2000 being truncated over the past decade.

The Navy is looking to transition from the littoral combat ship to a more heavily armed frigate, but it has not announced what such a ship would look like or how soon it could get to the fleet.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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