The Navy needs a clear maritime strategy where everyone — from the White House to Pentagon leaders on down — are all on board, according to former naval officer Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia.

Absence of such strategy is limiting the Navy from reaching a fleet of 355 ships, the official target established in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, Luria said Wednesday at the Association of the U.S. Navy’s Legislative Awards ceremony.

“I just cannot beat the drum enough that we need to continue to grow the fleet… The truth is, we really need to frame the reasons behind why we need this fleet,” said Luria, who was a recipient of AUSN’s 2021 National Legislative Advocacy Award, along with Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Luria, a Democrat and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, noted that although she didn’t agree with everything in the Trump administration’s Battle Force 2045 proposal, the plan understood that the U.S. needs a large Navy and called for a fleet of more than 500 ships by 2045.

But the Navy — along with the other services — just seem to divvy up the Pentagon’s topline based on what funding they believe they can secure when they present their budget requests to Congress, Luria said. That stems from an absence of strategy, she said.

“I think that what happens is, there’s a top line that goes over…to the Pentagon, gets roughly split in thirds, and the Navy just has to come to us and essentially not say what they need based off the world and today’s situation and China’s nefarious actions, but just based off of a topline number,” Luria said.

It should be the other way around, though. That way, the strategy then informs the requirements outlined in the budget request, she said.

For example, Luria said the U.S. must abandon its strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan as it has done for decades. Although President Joe Biden said in October that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if China attacked, the White House later clarified that official policy remained unaltered.

Luria noted that Navy leaders like retired Adm. Phil Davidson, the former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told members of Congress in March 2021 that China could take control of Taiwan in as soon as six years. Likewise, current commander of U.S. Pacific Command Adm. John Aquilino told lawmakers later that month he believed China seizing Taiwan is “much closer to us than most think.”

Those sentiments, she said, require a sea change in thinking.

“I think that we need to change our policy to a policy of strategic clarity: if the United States will react to maintain the status quo,” said Luria. “If China attempts to take Taiwan by force, the United States will react and maintain the status quo. And I think that overarching statement can help influence and shape what we’re building our military to look like and what missions we need them to perform.”

Luria previously expressed that the Navy needs to better articulate its needs, and said at the Surface Navy Association conference in January that the “number one thing I want to do is to be able to provide more resources to the Navy.”

“But when the Navy comes before Congress, there really isn’t a push to say, ‘This is what the Navy needs, this is what the nation needs,’” she said in January.

Both chambers of Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Bill for FY22 and the White House signed it in December, adding $25 billion to the Pentagon’s budget from the previous year.

However, funding is stalled until the defense appropriations bill is passed, and the Defense Department is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on Feb. 18.

The House passed a stop gap spending measure on Tuesday that funds the government through March 11, and does include funding for the Columbia-class submarine. The Senate is also expected to pass the measure before Feb. 18 to avoid a government shutdown, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.

Luria, who voted for the continuing resolution, stressed that her support was only to avert a shutdown and cautioned against a year-long stopgap funding measure.

“A year-long continuing resolution would cost the Department of Defense billions and prevent the Navy from quickly and adequately responding to threats and aggression around the world from adversaries like China,” Luria said in a statement Tuesday. “The Navy would lose $14 billion in purchasing power over the next year, severely impacting our ability to acquire ships and weapons.”

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