Air Traffic Controller 1st Class Brittni Latterell and Air Traffic Controller Chief Ayanna Gregg man the marshall control aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. Wasp is currently conducting anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training in support of Exercise Black Widow. (U.S. Navy photo by Benjmain F. Davella.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way … but can they find the money?

Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined an ambitious plan this week to reshape the US Navy, enabling it to build out the fleet to 355 ships or more, and focus more on unmanned surface and submarine combatants — all intended to counter China’s fast-growing naval forces, of course, Richard Sisk of reported.

But the elephant in the room was too obvious … it all depends on the funding. With President Donald Trump at the helm, there’s no guarantee of anything.

The plan relies on overhauling shipyards to produce and maintain ships “on cost and on schedule,” Esper said in an address and question-and-answer session at Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, California.

“To achieve this outcome, we must increase funding for shipbuilding and the readiness that sustains a larger force.”

“Doing this and finding the money within the Navy budget and elsewhere to make it real is something that both the Navy leadership and I are committed to doing,” he added.

Esper said the plan is to focus on the Indo-Pacific with a more dispersed fleet and a new class of frigates to counter China’s land-based, long-range “carrier killer” missiles, the report said.

Meanwhile, as Esper was lobbying for more funding to make the navy great again, its ships, subs and aircraft were in the North Atlantic this week, for the Black Widow exercise — testing its ability to detect and track undersea vessels in a region where Russian activity has been ramping up.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper outlined an ambitious plan this week to reshape the US Navy, enabling it to build out the fleet to 355 ships or more. Credit: DoD.

Exercise Black Widow, which is focused on anti-submarine warfare, follows several public comments from Navy leaders about increased Russian undersea activity there, posing new challenges in a region they say must be viewed as a contested battlespace, Gina Harkins of reported.

“This is where the fight is … where the competition is,” Vice Admiral Andrew Lewis, commander of US 2nd Fleet, told reporters. “We’ve got to maintain our positional advantage over the adversary — specifically in the Atlantic, the undersea capability of the Russians. We have got to maintain that advantage.”

The amphibious assault ship Wasp; guided-missile destroyers Arleigh Burke and McFaul; two fast attack submarines — one Virginia class and one Los Angeles class; and patrol aircraft are participating in Black Widow, the report said.

The name of the new exercise stems from a submarine tactic that involves breaking a bullseye into quadrants, resembling a spider web. Undersea Warfighting Development Center decided on Black Widow since it’s the most powerful and lethal spider.

Russia is fielding some of the most advanced subs in the world — both fast-attack guided-missile shooters and ballistic-missile shooters, Vice Admiral Daryl Caudle said.

The Russians “took a knee” for more than a decade, Caudle added, leaving many to believe the American homeland was not under threat. That’s no longer the case, he said.

“We have to be prepared here to conduct high-end combat operations in local waters just like we do abroad now because of the threats,” he said.

The Navy is using MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon maritime-patrol and reconnaissance aircraft during the exercise, which Rear Admiral Jim Waters, commander of the newly re-established Submarine Group Two, called “a very lethal combination.”

Both can see below the waterline — the Seahawk from lower altitudes and the recon aircraft from higher up.