The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the rate of Navy ship procurement, and the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans have been oversight matters for the congressional defense committees for many years.
The Navy’s proposed FY2018 budget, as amended on May 24, 2017, requests the procurement of nine new ships, including one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class aircraft carrier, two Virginia-class attack submarines, two DDG-51 class destroyers, two Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), one TAO-205 class oiler, and one towing, salvage, and rescue ship.
On December 15, 2016, the Navy released a new force-structure goal that calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. Key points about this new 355-ship force-level goal include the following:
The 355-ship force-level goal is the result of a Force Structure Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Navy in 2016. The Navy conducts an FSA every few years, as circumstances require, to determine its force-structure goal.
The new 355-ship force-level goal replaces a 308-ship force-level goal that the Navy released in March 2015. The actual size of the Navy in recent years has generally been between 270 and 290 ships.
The figure of 355 ships appears close to an objective of building toward a fleet of 350 ships that was announced by the Trump campaign organization during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The 355-ship goal, however, reflects the national security strategy and national military strategy that were in place in 2016 (i.e., the Obama Administration’s national security strategy and national military strategy).
Compared to the previous 308-ship force-level goal, the new 355-ship force-level goal includes 47 additional ships, or about 15% more ships. More than 47 ships, however, would need to be added to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan to achieve and maintain the Navy’s 355-ship fleet, unless the Navy extends the service lives of existing ships beyond currently planned figures and/or reactivates recently retired ships:
CRS estimates that 57 to 67 ships would need to be added to the Navy’s FY2017 30-year (FY2017-FY2046) shipbuilding plan to achieve the Navy’s 355-ship fleet and maintain it through the end of the 30-year period (i.e., through FY2046).
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that 73 to 77 ships would need to be added to the Navy’s FY2018 30-year (FY2018-FY2047) shipbuilding plan to achieve the Navy’s 355-ship fleet and maintain it not only through the end of the 30-year period (i.e., through FY2047), but another 10 years beyond the end of the 30-year period (i.e., through FY2057).
Even with increased shipbuilding rates, achieving certain parts of the 355-ship force-level goal could take many years. CBO estimates that the earliest the Navy could achieve all elements of the 355-ship fleet would be 2035. Extending the service lives of existing ships and/or reactivating retired ships could accelerate the attainment of certain parts of the 355-ship force structure.
Procuring the additional ships needed to achieve and maintain the Navy’s 355-ship fleet would require several billion dollars per year in additional shipbuilding funds:
CRS estimates that procuring the 57 to 67 ships that would need to be added to the Navy’s FY2017 30-year shipbuilding plan to achieve the Navy’s 355-ship fleet and maintain it through FY2046 would notionally cost an average of roughly $4.6 billion to $5.1 billion per year in additional shipbuilding funds over the 30-year period, (Emphasis added—Ed.) using today’s shipbuilding costs.
CBO estimates that procuring the 73 to 77 ships that would need to be added to the Navy’s FY2018 30-year shipbuilding plan to achieve the Navy’s 355-ship fleet and maintain it through FY2057 would cost, in constant FY2017 dollars, an average of $5.4 billion per year in additional shipbuilding funds over the 30-year period.
The above additional shipbuilding funds are only a fraction of the total costs that would be needed to achieve and maintain the Navy’s 355-ship fleet instead of the Navy’s previously envisaged 308-ship fleet. CBO estimates that, adding together both shipbuilding costs and ship operation and support (O&S) costs, the Navy’s 355-ship fleet would cost an average of about $11 billion to $23 billion more per year in constant FY2017 dollars than the Navy’s previously envisaged 308-ship fleet. This figure does not include additional costs for manned aircraft, unmanned systems, and weapons.
If defense spending in coming years is not increased above the caps established in the Budget Control Act of 2011, or BCA (S. 365/P.L. 112-25 of August 2, 2011), as amended, achieving and maintaining a 355-ship fleet could require reducing funding levels for other Department of Defense (DOD) programs.
Navy officials have stated that, in general, the shipbuilding industrial base has the ability to take on the additional shipbuilding work needed to achieve and maintain a 355-ship fleet, and that building toward the 355-ship goal sooner rather than later would be facilitated by ramping up production of existing ship designs rather than developing and then starting production of new designs.
Depending on the number of additional ships per year that might be added to the Navy’s shipbuilding effort, building the additional ships that would be needed to achieve and maintain the 355-ship fleet could create thousands of additional manufacturing (and other) jobs at shipyards, associated supplier firms, and elsewhere in the U.S. economy.
Navy officials have indicated that, prior to embarking on a fleet expansion, they would first like to see additional funding provided for overhaul and repair work to improve the readiness of existing Navy ships, particularly conventionally powered surface ships, and for mitigating other shortfalls in Navy readiness.
Click here for the full report (116 PDF pages), hosted on the website of the Federation of American Scientists.