9. Rebuilding the Navy
RCP: Now that John Warner has retired, you're the only former Secretary of the Navy in the Senate. There was a report recently that our Navy fleet is dwindling from 600 twenty years ago down to 200 in the next ten years. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, what can you do or what you have done to ensure we have the best Navy fleet possible?
Webb: I think we're at 282. When I was commissioned in 1968, we had 930 ships in the United States Navy. It went down to 479 in 1979 after Vietnam. And then we had it up to -- I think I had it up to around 580, 586. When I resigned as Secretary of the Navy I made a statement -- it was over a budget issue with cutting the Navy back -- I made a statement: ‘I did not choose to become the father of the 350 ship Navy.' Little did I know, it got down to the 270s. It's now 282.
I've been around the entire United States military all my life. So I have just as strong feelings about the Air Force -- I grew up in the Air Force -- the Army, I was a ground guy in the Marine Corps, served in the Marine Corps, etc. This isn't just a Navy issue. But since you asked, it is a Navy issue.
I think the Navy has huge challenges right now. They got leadership challenges. They came in $4.6 billion in unfunded requirements. They're trying to get it up to 313 ships. Their air procurement programs are in disarray. They had ship building programs in disarray, cancelled. They really need a stronger focus, and they need to be rebuilding their structure and those sorts of things. So we've been back and forth on this. They need to really get a much stronger focus on where to use their money.