What direction will the Navy take under the Biden administration?

Shipbuilding and repair likely to stay big focus
USS San Jacinto Homecoming
Posted at 1:57 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 22:40:34-05

NORFOLK, Va. - The Navy is one of the most powerful engines that fuels the Hampton Roads economy.

Last fiscal year, the service had an economic impact of $15.4 billion on the region by Navy estimates.

So when there's a shift in power in Washington, D.C., local leaders and industries often wonder: What will that mean for the Navy.

Bryan Clark is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute after a long Naval career, both active-duty and later as a civilian special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations.

Clark says despite the change from a Republican Trump administration to a Democratic Biden one, drastic changes for the Navy are unlikely right now.

"The Navy is a pretty slow-moving organization. It’s a lot of capital investments involved, so in the near term you're probably going to see a change in tone with the new administration’s appointees emphasizing affordability, probably emphasizing climate change to a greater degree, and emphasizing personnel issues," Clark told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

One area that will likely get the most scrutiny is long-range shipbuilding plans that seek to increase the size of the Navy.

"Instead of buying a lot of the big heavy stuff like the attack submarines and the destroyers, you buy more of the smaller stuff and you get up to that bigger fleet that's easier to maintain and sustain. I think that's what we're going to see the the Biden administration do is still drive for growing the fleet, but in a different way than what the Trump administration had on their way out the door," Clark explained.

Growing the size of the fleet is something Republican Congressman Rob Wittman and Democratic Congresswoman Elaine Luria agree needs to happen.
Luria and Wittman are bringing greater visibility to Hampton Roads through their new roles on the pivotal House Armed Services Committee, with Luria being elevated to Vice Chair and Wittman being named Vice Ranking Member.

"I think that this is a pivotal time in determining what the Navy looks like in the future and what shipbuilding looks like. We really you know struggled over the last couple years to have a good long range vision with a 30-year shipbuilding plan," Luria told Corillo.

"When a new administration comes in, you want to take a look about what's happening, do that evaluation, but I have to believe that, looking at the threats and looking at the needs, that they are probably going to come to somewhat similar conclusion, as the previous administration, that is what does our Navy needs to look like today and what do we need to do to prepare for the future," Wittman explained.

Both Luria and Wittman have expressed a desire to bring more consistency to the industrial base in Hampton Roads, allowing shipyards to better plan for Navy ship repair and maintenance needs.

Beyond shipbuilding and repair, Clark expects that when a new Secretary of the Navy is appointed, that person will focus on some of the other priorities of the Biden administration, including climate change.

The Pentagon has already indicated under the direction of new Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that climate change poses a national security threat.
Impacts on local bases, such as sea level rise and the piers at Naval Station Norfolk as well as recurrent flooding issues on and off bases, are likely to receive more attention in the years ahead.