Pentagon & Congress

Navy secretary nominee supports expanding fleet, but says more money is needed

President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Navy voiced strong support Tuesday for plans to maintain a 355-ship Navy but also acknowledged that reaching that goal will require “additional resources” from Congress in coming years.

Carlos Del Toro, a retired Navy commander and business leader, also told senators during his confirmation hearing that he sees both climate change and China as top threats to the force in coming years.

“The climate crisis demands U.S. Navy investment precisely because it exacerbates every other challenge our Navy faces, including great power competition,” he said.

“Already, installation resilience is an issue, with vital installations facing threats from rising sea levels. Building energy and environmental resilience into our installations will make them more combat effective.”

Del Toro would become the service’s second-ever Hispanic secretary if confirmed. On Tuesday, he faced mostly friendly questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, despite concerns from some Republican lawmakers that the White House’s budget request for fiscal 2022 is too low.

Earlier this year, Navy officials acknowledged the current ship total is fewer than 300, and that reaching the service’s stated 355-ship goal by 2030 will be a difficult challenge.

Asked about that, Del Toro said he supports the 355-ship mark but acknowledged that getting there will require significantly more funding from Congress.

“As our nation shifts from a land-based strategy over the past 20 years, fighting the wars in the Middle East, to a more dominant maritime strategy in the Pacific, particularly in our efforts to deter China, I do believe that our Navy/Marine Corps team will need additional resources to be able to fully meet the combat effectiveness we will need,” he said.

That includes a potential U.S. response to China, “a constant naval threat” in the Pacific, the nominee said.

Del Toro noted that Chinese investment in their naval forces “means that we can no longer take U.S. naval superiority for granted.” But he also praised Biden’s proposed investments and policies towards the Asian power.

He also said investments in unmanned naval systems will be key to meeting those threats. “It’s important to ensure that they’re fully integrated with all of our existing platforms.”

No timeline has been announced for when the full Senate could confirm Del Toro. Lawmakers are scheduled to break in early August for district work. If he isn’t approved by then, the confirmation vote will not come until sometime in September.

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