When President-elect Donald Trump spoke about expanding the Navy to 350 ships in his September national security speech, he’s most likely taking his cues from Randy Forbes, the Republican Congressman from Virginia poised to take over as Secretary of the Navy in a Trump administration.
“The 350-ship navy, cruiser modernisation — those naval planks [in Donald Trump’s policies] are lifted from Randy Forbes,” a source familiar with the matter told USNI News.
The president appoints a Secretary of the Navy to “conduct, all affairs of the Department of the Navy,” which includes the Marine Corps. Trump, during his speech, said he wants to greatly increase the size of both the Navy and the Marines, and to generally “rebuild our military.”
Forbes, a military adviser to Trump during his campaign, serves as a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, and makes it plain on his website that he is “one of the nation’s most forceful advocates for a strong national defence.”
In September, Forbes asserted before Congress that “more than rhetoric is required to counterbalance China’s growing military power and assertiveness,” referring to China’s artificial island building and militarization in the South China Sea, as well as China ignoring an international court ruling that said its claims in the region were illegal.
China has declared “no fly” and “no sail” zones in international waters in the Pacific that have gone unchallenged by the US in the last few years. Increasingly Beijing bullies ships from its neighbours, some of whom are US allies.
In September 2015, Forbes wrote a letter urging Obama to increase the Navy’s presence in the region, and has been bullish on the prospect of projecting power in the South China Sea for some time.
Forbes has advocated an increased US presence in the region, as well as modernising and increasing the size of the Navy’s fleet as China makes spectacular progress in updating its own navy.
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