The deckhouse for DDG 1000, the first Zumwalt-class destroyer, is currently under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding's Composite Center of Excellence in Gulfport, Miss. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

By Nathan Hodge, WSJ Washington Wire Blog

The Navy’s long-term shipbuilding plan is usually an item that’s only of interest to budget wonks. But in this year’s election campaign, it’s a potential hot-button issue.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday sent Congress a document that outlines the Navy’s long-term goal of building and maintaining a fleet of “about 300″ warships over the next three decades. That’s 13 less than the Navy’s last 30-year plan, which projected a fleet of 313 warships.

The Navy’s revised shipbuilding projection is not news. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert has spoken publicly about a plan to “cross the threshold” to a 300-ship Navy by 2019, while supporting a strong shipbuilding industry.

But that doesn’t necessarily play well with Republicans. For one thing, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney is campaigning on a hawkish platform that calls for boosting naval shipbuilding to approximately 15 vessels a year, up from the current rate of around nine a year.

And Republican lawmakers are also questioning the Obama administration’s spending plan. In a hearing this morning on naval issues, Rep. Todd Akin (R., Mo.), expressed concern about an anticipated dip in shipbuilding accounts over the next few years. “In many ways, it makes little sense to be shrinking our Navy just months after the announcement of a strategy that would shift emphasis to Asia, the Pacific, and the Mideast — areas where a strong naval presence is an imperative,” he said.

For some shipbuilders, however, the jury is still out. Mike Petters, the president and chief executive of Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., told The Wall Street Journal that it was too early to comment on the Navy’s new plan, but added the document “does inform the way we think about the future of our business.”

Huntington Ingalls is the sole U.S. builder of nuclear powered aircraft carriers.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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