The Navy aims to bolster its active-duty end strength by more than 5,000 sailors next fiscal year, despite the difficulties all the services are having with recruiting and retaining service members.

In its $255.8 billion fiscal 2024 budget request, which includes $53.2 billion for the Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy has asked Congress to approve an active naval force of 347,000 enlisted sailors and officers, up from the estimated 341,736 sailors serving this fiscal year.

The bump stems from an increase in enlisted personnel. The budget plan proposes a force comprising: 56,506 officers, a 146-officer decrease from this fiscal year; 286,144 enlisted personnel, an increase of 5,470 sailors; and 4,350 midshipmen, down from 4,410.

“Faced with a challenging recruiting environment, the Navy increased enlistment bonuses in FY 2022 and will continue to do so as necessary,” the budget document says. “Retention has also been difficult with a strong national economy, so bonuses and incentives to retain our current naval force [are] a priority. To attract the most talented and diverse workforce, the Navy continues to evaluate its compensation package and admission requirements, and how it reaches potential recruits through advertising and career events.”

Factors such as more thorough medical screenings, fewer Americans eligible to serve, and low civilian unemployment are driving the recruiting challenges, according to service leaders.

The Navy also aims to attract an additional 1,000 Navy Reserve personnel in FY24, totaling 57,200 reservists. The service is proposing a force of 46,873 drilling Navy Reserve reserve personnel, and 10,327 full-time-support personnel.

“Changes in Navy Reserve end strength are designed to optimize capabilities and capacity to maximize strategic depth directly contributing to the high-end fight,” the budget document says. “Primary drivers of strength changes include the recovery of billets that have been gapped due to recruiting and retention challenges, as well as the reallocation of expeditionary resources and capabilities, restoral of Littoral Combat Ship support capacity, and investments in adaptive mobilization capabilities.”

The request to grow the Navy comes following several initiatives over the past year to improve retention and recruiting, including offering future sailors or veterans who re-up right now the opportunity to combine the maximum enlistment bonus with a maximum student loan repayment for a total of $115,000 — if they ship out before June. The Navy first introduced the policy last year and extended it to FY23.

The Navy reported in September 2022 that it met its active-duty enlisted recruitment goals for FY22, but doing so required the service to drain its Delayed Entry Program pool to the lowest level the Navy has seen in 40 years. The program allows someone to join the Navy prior to their shipping date.

Meanwhile, the Navy failed to reach targets for active duty and Reserve officers, along with Reserve enlisted personnel, in FY22.

Despite challenges, the Navy surpassed its retention goals for FY22 and is also ahead on FY23 monthly retention targets, Navy Times previously reported. Recent actions specifically targeting retention include suspending enlisted high-year tenure for two years to permit sailors who surpassed their high-year tenure threshold to remain in the service.

The Navy Department’s budget request for FY24 is $11 billion more than what Congress enacted last fiscal year, representing a 4.5% percent increase. The request would fund nine ships and 88 aircraft, and would initiate procurement for the Standard Missile, the Naval Strike Missile, the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile.

Additionally, the budget request includes the largest pay increase for sailors and Marines in 22 years, amounting to a 5.2% boost in income.

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