The Navy is U.S. shipbuilding’s largest customer

Written by Nick Blenkey

Image: Fincantieri

Add Eight, Delete 15

The FY2022 request proposes the decommissioning of 15 ships, including seven Ticonderoga class cruisers and four littoral combat ships. Add eight, delete 15, doesn’t sound like fleet growth.

“The total of eight new ships requested for FY2022 is one more than the total of seven new ships that were projected for FY2022 under the Navy’s FY2021 budget submission,” says the CRS report, noting that this is “about two less than steady-state replacement rate for a 355-ship Navy (which is about 10 ships per year).”

Looking at the money, the CRS report says that “the Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $18.1 billion for construction of new ships within its shipbuilding budget (the Shipbuilding and Conversion, Navy, or SCN, appropriation account), compared with $17.8 billion for construction of new ships within the SCN account projected for FY2022 under the Navy’s FY2021 budget submission, $22.8 billion in FY2022 for construction of new ships within the SCN account in the December 9, 2020, document, and an enacted FY2021 total of $20.1 billion for the construction of new ships within the SCN account.”

“The issue for Congress,” says the report, “is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s force-level goal, its proposed FY2022 shipbuilding program, and its longer-term shipbuilding plans. Key questions for Congress include the following: Is the Navy’s force-level goal (either the existing 355-ship goal or a possible successor goal) appropriate for supporting U.S. national security strategy and U.S. defense strategy? Is the more distributed fleet architecture envisioned by the Navy the most cost effective fleet architecture for meeting future mission needs? Are the Navy’s proposed FY2022 shipbuilding program and (if submitted) its FY2022 five-year and 30-year shipbuilding plans consistent with the Navy’s force-level goal? Given finite defense resources and competing demands for defense funds, what is the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans? Does the U.S. shipbuilding industry, including both shipyards and supplier firms, have adequate capacity for executing the Navy’s shipbuilding plans?”


Big Shake Up Ahead?

In addition to a change in the occupancy of the White House, one reason why the Navy is still developing its analysis is that a major change in thinking is taking place.

On December 9, 2020, the Trump administration released a document presenting an envisioned Navy force-level goal for achieving by 2045 a Navy with a more distributed fleet architecture. While the Biden administration may not go along with everything in that document, the CRS report noted that the general idea of shifting the Navy toward a more distributed force architecture that includes a smaller proportion of larger ships, a larger proportion of smaller ships, and a new third tier of large unmanned vessels may remain, because support for this change has been developing within Navy planning for years as a consequence of changes in technologies and the capabilities of potential adversaries.

The just submitted not-so-long-range shipbuilding plan gives hints of what may be to come. It notes that that, Increased numbers of small multi-mission combatants, such as Constellation Class Frigates (FFG 62), enable more efficient distribution of missions across the surface fleet, freeing up more capable assets (CGs and DDGs) for critical high-end missions and that the FNFS (Future Naval Force Study) indicated that growing the small surface combatant force enables reductions in the quantity of large surface combatants while yielding a more distributed and lethal force.

“Next generation ships and submarines are in the early stages of requirements definition, and their cost uncertainty compounds further in the out years of the plan,” says the submission. Costs are being estimated and the impact on overall force mix will be determined within the ongoing work of … future fleet architecture analysis and associated experimentation.”

As things look right now, the shape of the future Navy will be determined in a push and pull between the admirals, industry and Congress. Those retired admirals now working for shipbuilders will be kept busy.

Next month, we’ll take a look at all those ships ordered by government agencies other than the Navy.

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