We're a wealthy country. So of course we can afford to build a larger Navy. But if it was really so easy and painless to do so in the reality of budgeting rather than with simple math that shows what a tiny burden it would be to build that larger Navy, we'd have done it.
So allow me to link to an fairly recent post that addresses numbers in our fleet.
Let me highlight the major points that we need to pick a number of battle force vessels needed and figure out how to build closer to that number with likely resources.
And we can do this given that the Navy has gone from a high-low mix of ships to one that is mostly high.
Although the new LCS/frigate is no longer a low-cost hull even though it is certainly at the low end of capabilities, giving us the worst of both worlds.
Finally, we need a real carrier debate (with a caveat that the debate must not be about building the same number of smaller, less capable ships) given the high costs of these vessels, rather than judging China's apparent pursuit of carriers as proof of their usefulness and ability to survive in the age of network-centric warfare that features dispersed but coordinated precision missiles and persistent surveillance. (Have the Chinese broken the kill chain that leads to their carriers?)
The Army is looking at shrinking to 24 maneuver brigades and operates legacy armored vehicles. The Air Force is aging and looking at buying a number of very expensive replacement aircraft which means they don't want to keep low-cost A-10s flying. The Marines never get money. Yet the Navy can solve its ship building problem with a relative pittance of cash, considering our GDP and total defense budget?
We shouldn't count on significantly more money to solve the problem of a too-small Navy. Pick a number. Because not picking a number while it waits for the cash spigot to open means the Navy picks a number smaller than it would like. Or that we need.
UPDATE: Related. Yes, distributed lethality and survivability should be the basis for designing our fleet. Numbers fit in with both, of course.
UPDATE: One more thought. I'd rather have fewer carriers forward deployed--where they might just be targets in the opening hours of a war that an enemy prepares for and initiates--in order to have a wartime surge capacity.
Couldn't we replace carrier battle groups forward deployed with surface action groups, F-35B-equipped amphibious warfare ships, land-based air power (Navy and Air Force), and even our cruise missile submarines that pack a huge load of Tomahawk missiles?
For the latter, we could just say--or let people assume--that the boat is on station. It doesn't even have to be present to maintain equivalent deterrence.
We could even get the element of surprise elsewhere if people come to assume its presence when there is no carrier battle group.