When President Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Bill back in December, he not only put the largest defense budget in history into action, he also made the building of a “355 ship Navy” part of the formal national policy. That provision, championed by Senate Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker and Rep. Rob Wittman, mandated that the Navy grow by a whopping 78 ships as quickly as is “practical.”

“With his signature, President Trump has confirmed the United States’ resolve to meet the growing needs of our U.S. Navy,” Wicker said in a statement. “Building up our nation’s fleet is essential to protecting our national security and projecting American power around the globe.”

Unfortunately, while that provision was heavy on “resolve,” it was light on practicality. Although the Navy took the number and marched with it, even internal, and arguably optimistic projections don’t foresee reaching that 355 number until well into the 2050s – further than the Navy is willing to even do budget projections for.

“This is a helpful move, if largely symbolic,” said Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer captain and consultant with The Ferrybridge Group, at the time.

In the months since, some have come to question America’s real commitment to that figure, as projections show a significant increase in ship production in the coming years, followed by a sharp downturn that will coalesce with a number of Navy ships reaching the end of their operational service life. In other words, the fleet will grow in the short term, before shrinking again – and lawmakers are counting on securing funds to offset that trend sometime in the future.

“It’s simply a number thrown out there. I think they said they hope to achieve a 355-ship navy by what is it, the 2050s, somewhere way off in the distance,” said Rep. Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“We can barely predict what will happen in two months now, really, 2050 you’re going to tell me how many ships we’re going to have, based on everything going on.”

Even Senator Roger Wicker, who played a vital role in having the provision included in the 2018 NDAA has since been critical of the Navy’s plan to reach 355 ships – calling the timeline, which is loosely slated out to 2050, “unacceptable.”