Navy Secretary Cites Climate Change as a ‘Top Priority’ While China Keeps Building Ships

“As the Secretary of the Navy, I can tell you that I have made climate one of my top priorities since the first day I came into office,” Carlos Del Toro said March 1 in remarks at the University of the Bahamas.

And with those words, we now have a clear understanding of why China’s navy will surpass the U.S. fleet by 2030. China is building ships at a frenetic pace, while the United States Navy is fighting an enemy that, even if it exists, resists conventional military power.

“The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps team has been working on climate and energy security for a long time,” he said. “And we are accelerating and broadening those efforts,” Del Toro said.

Currently, there are about 300 commissioned ships in the U.S. fleet and another 97 non-commissioned ships. The Defense Department says that Chinas navy is the largest navy in the world with a battle force of approximately 340 platforms, including major surface combatants, submarines, oceangoing amphibious ships, mine warfare ships, aircraft carriers, and fleet auxiliaries…” China is shooting for a 500-ship navy by 2030.

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The U.S. still holds a qualitative advantage up and down the battle line, and our force of 11 aircraft carriers is unrivaled by any other nation. China has two carriers and has plans for at least five more.

None of them are as technologically capable as our Ford-class supercarriers, but Chinese naval strength lies in its fleet of surface ships and its ability to dominate its near-seas region. The Chinese navy is, as yet, unable to extend Chinese influence beyond the eastern Pacific, but that may change by the end of the decade.

So while the U.S. Navy is involved in the war against climate change, China is preparing to make the U.S. a second-class naval power.

Del Toro spoke just days before the Biden administration released its proposed budget for 2024, which calls for shrinking the Navy fleet even though most military experts and senior Navy officers have called for more ships to deter China’s larger fleet.

For several years now, the Navy has set a goal of having 355 manned ships. But, for the last three years, the Biden administration has proposed shrinking the fleet below the roughly 298 ships it has available now, instead of increasing it toward a 355-ship goal.

This year, the Biden budget called for the decommissioning of 11 ships and the construction of just nine ships, for a net loss of two vessels. That budget proposal was met with skepticism from members of Congress, which has acted in the last two years to spare the Navy from cuts to the fleet proposed by the Biden administration.

According to Bloomberg News, breakdowns are occurring more frequently and contributing to a decline in readiness. Is this really the time to reduce our fleet of combat ships?

A review of maintenance, repair and parts replacement for 151 surface warships matched with days underway at sea shows they “faced persistent sustainment challenges that have worsened through 2021,” according to a Government Accountability Office assessment released Tuesday.

The declining time at sea is a troubling sign particularly as the US seeks to counter China in the Indo-Pacific region and for a potential conflict this decade over Taiwan. China has the world’s largest navy, according to the Pentagon, while the GAO says the US is getting less use out of many of the ships it has.

China’s navy has different priorities than the USN and currently has no plans to challenge the U.S. in the Atlantic Ocean or Mediterranean Sea. But that only makes its regional ambitions more worrisome.

One can imagine the change in naval lore made necessary by this current war against devil climate change. “Damn the carbon footprint! Full speed ahead!” Or “I have not yet begun to fight for climate justice!”

I’m sure you can make up your own.

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