The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), and Landing Craft, Air Cushions 86, 85 and 02 attached to Assault Craft Unit 4 (ACU 4) sail in formation Aug. 14, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jesse Schwab)

WASHINGTON — A US senator today said the chief of naval operations assured him the Navy’s next long-term shipbuilding plan will reach the 31 amphibious ship fleet mandated in law.

“I met with the CNO last week. I asked her what we’re going to see in the shipbuilding plan,” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said during an Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition event on Capitol Hill. “And she assured me this year’s shipbuilding plan will have 31 amphibs at a minimum.”

The senator’s comments come just days before the White House is expected release its next annual budget request, which traditionally includes the publication of the Navy’s updated 30-year shipbuilding plan. That document outlines the numbers and types of ships the service projects it will seek to build over the next three decades.

It is also seen as an important tool for Congress to understand the Pentagon’s strategic plans, as well industry to gauge the military’s anticipated shipbuilding requirements so they invest and adjust their workforces accordingly.

A spokeswoman for CNO Adm. Lisa Franchetti did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lawmakers’ increased sense of urgency to build up the amphibious ship fleet is at least in part driven by admissions last year from Marine Corps leadership that a lack of ready ships prevented the service from responding to events around the globe, such as the civil and humanitarian crises in Turkey and Sudan.

Last year’s shipbuilding plan did not project the Navy achieving a 31 amphibious ship fleet, contravening a law that was passed in the year prior mandating the Navy do so. The discrepancy drew the ire of defense hawks in Congress and led to Sullivan in particular to angrily question Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro during a hearing about why he wasn’t “following the law.”

In response to the senator’s questions and subsequent letters from lawmakers, Del Toro largely balked on the committee’s demands to immediately update the shipbuilding plan, instead writing he is “in constant consultation with the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Naval Operations” to provide the “right mix” of capabilities to the Navy’s fleet.

“The [Navy and Marine Corps] will continue to make investments to put us on course to achieve and maintain a ready and capable amphibious warship fleet that meets the needs of our joint force commanders,” he said in a June 19, 2023 letter, obtained by Breaking Defense.