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The US Navy will hit a milestone ship count in 2020; pours money into sailors, subs and unmanned tech

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The last time the Navy had more than 300 ships was in 2002, when it had 313, according to Naval History and Heritage Command. The Navy should be up to 314 ships by 2023, according to the Navy’s budget submission.

In total, the Navy is requesting $205.6 billion, which breaks out to $160.8 billion in base funding and a staggering $44.8 billion on overseas contingency operations funding. The OCO funding is up $36.6 billion over last year’s request and is a gimmick to avoid budget caps. The budget will need to be hashed out in Congress through a spending deal.

The budget also marks a major step toward an unmanned future for its battle force, budgeting $400 million in 2020 for two large unmanned surface vessels, or LUSV, and $2.7 billion across the five-year projection known as the Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP. The budget calls for two LUSVs per year across the program.

The budget also calls for eight of its unmanned aerial refueling drones, the MQ-25 Stingray, with four per year starting in 2023.

The service is also asking for $359 million for unmanned undersea vehicles, which includes $182 million for the newly awarded Orca extra-large unmanned undersea vehicle. In February, the Navy announced a $43 million contract with Boeing to begin construction on four Orca XLUUVs, which will be used for a variety of unmanned mission areas including countermine, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.

Submarines were a big winner in this year’s budget submission, which sees the Navy planning for a third Virginia-class attack submarine in 2020 — a move long sought by lawmakers interested in boosting submarine numbers to avoid a shortfall in the 2030s. The Navy is facing a precipitous decline in attack boat inventories in the 2030s, during which the Navy is expecting to fall to 42 boats down from today’s 52.

The Navy plans to add 5,100 sailors over last year’s request, 5,015 of which are enlisted billets. In total, the service wants 340,500 sailors in 2020. Today, end strength stands at 332,904 sailors in the active Navy. Reserve end strength will take a small cut of about 100 sailors. End strength for the reserve will drop from 59,100 to 59,000 year over year.

FY20 also marks the first budget request since 2005 in which the Navy did not request a littoral combat ship, instead shifting its focus to the FFG(X) future frigate. The Navy asked for $1.3 billion for the first FFG(X) hull in 2020.

The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan is due next week, Navy officials said.

More budget highlights are as follows:

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