Home » Budget Industry » Experts Outline Costs, Benefits of Building a 355-Ship Navy Before Senate Panel

Experts Outline Costs, Benefits of Building a 355-Ship Navy Before Senate Panel

A crane moves the lower stern into place on the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. on June 22, 2017. HII Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spending more money now to increase the Navy’s fleet size will signal to potential adversaries their victory at sea is not possible, but accomplishing this is neither cheap nor quick, a quartet of experts told a Senate panel on Tuesday.

During testimony Wednesday at the U.S. Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower, the experts offered reasons why spending must increase and more, suggested ways to both speed up the process and save money to achieve the stated goal of maintaining a 355-ship fleet.

As currently planned, the Navy will not be able to achieve the 355-ship requirement for at least 18 years, said Eric Labs, senior analyst for naval forces and weapons with the Congressional Budget Office.

“If the fleet requirement were relaxed, 355-ships could be achieved quicker,” Labs said.

But relaxing the requirements would mean altering the types of ships the Navy builds, including recognizing the service would not meet its goal of 66 attack submarines in 15 years because of capacity concerns with the shipyards, Labs said.

A 15-year build-up is the most expensive option, $3.1 trillion through 2047 to build and maintain the fleet, but would only cost about three percent more than a 30-year build-up plan, according to Labs testimony. The Navy’s current plan is about $300 billion to $400 billion less than the estimated CBO costs, but the CBO also estimates the Navy’s current spending plan falls short in 22 of the next 30 years in terms of what’s needed to both build, maintain and properly staff a 355-ship fleet.

Labs also said the shipbuilding industry would likely need to spend up to $4 billion on physical improvements to shipyards. Most of this money would be needed to increase the ability of shipbuilders to manufacture submarines.

The Navy could speed up its fleet build-up by refurbishing existing ships to extend their life spans, recommissioning ships recently taken out of service and considering buying more existing platforms instead of designing new ships, Ronald O’Rourke with the Congressional Research Service told the panel.

Specifically, O’Rourke suggested extending the service life of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine (SSN-688) by a few years. During the next decade, the youngest submarines in the class will near the end of their anticipated service life. By extending their life with regular maintenance, O’Rourke said the Navy could avoid potential submarine production problems – when the Navy reaches a point it’s retiring subs faster than new ones are being launched.

“If you baby these ships and take care of them, you can extend their lives,” O’Rouke said.

One reason for concern is potential adversaries are taking note of the age of the Navy’s aging fleet and ability to spend money on new ships.

“We’re more or less incentivizing the [Chinese military] into thinking they could achieve a sphere of influence,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) subcommittee chair.

When asked by Wicker what actions the Navy could take to dissuade the Chinese or Russian governments into thinking they could achieve seapower dominance, the answer was clear from Jerry Henrdix, with the Center for a New American Security. Large investments in shipbuilding sends the message to other great powers they ultimately they will not win at sea.

“Our adversaries look at our budgets process and exploit it,” said Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Countries such as China and Russia, Clark explained, send representatives to neighbor nations and tell those governments they can’t rely U.S. because the Navy currently is stressed in terms of meeting all the mission needs.

“To be deterred, aggressors must be presented with the possibility that their goals will be denied,” Clark said. “It will also require a larger fleet, as regions such as Northern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean become hot spots for great power competition and confrontation.”

  • DaSaint

    This really isn’t rocket science. We’ve got to increase the number of capable shipyards so that we can efficiently increase and maintain the fleet. This was actually partially accomplished when the Marienette yard and the Austal USA yards both began contributing to the fleet, albeit with undergunned LCS vessels. But we’ve lost yards like Todd, Seattle (now Vigor) and Todd, San Pedro in 1989.

    We’ve got to get Vigor doing newbuilds, and with Eastern Shipbuilding now doing the OPC, maybe capacity can increase alleviating the pressures on Ingalls (HHI) and Bath somewhat. NASSCO can handle more support ships, NNS and EB are gearing up for additional SSNs as well as the new SSBNs. Ingalls has a monopoly on Amphibs, as does NNS on Carriers. So be it, but we’ve got to spread the rest. Bath has to get it’s act together otherwise it too will go the way of Todd, San Pedro, once hailed as the yard with the highest salaries of any shipyard in America. And couldn’t compete, so it closed.

    • Angie Nathan

      The NLRB has considered the construction of Navy vessels a public works that should allow workers to earn prevailing wage under Davis Bacon. This consideration for the building of NEW ships was the involvement of all of the necessary skilled trades. Why the Copeland Act or Davis Bacon is not enforced with the LCS program is a mystery to me.
      In my opinion, anyone concerned about the future of skilled labor or our industrial base should examine why we continue to pump billions of dollars into mega corporations that have no intention of paying for skilled labor. As long as quality is not a requirement, a large portion of these “highly skilled” jobs are going to workers whose only ability is to show up for work, have a pulse, and do not question their betters.

  • NavySubNuke

    Extending the maintenance periods is the easy way — instead of getting them through in 4 months — take 8 – 10 months and swap out things you wouldn’t otherwise swap out. You get the dual benefit of the boat not being at sea and being used while also getting the benefit of doing more maintenance.
    Nothing is free though. It isn’t like we have a 688 Triper program to recondition old assets and return them to the fleet like we do with SSBNs. It is going to cost real money to extend those submarines and to create the sort of maintenance program that can support that extended life — the question as always is is the juice worth the squeeze?

  • sferrin

    Bet they’re wishing they hadn’t been so eager to torpedo all those Spruances. Fine ships they were, particularly those with the VLS. Whoever thought it was a good idea should be shot.

    • Rob C.

      The Spruances were in poor shape 20 years ago. They’re hulls weren’t meant to last so long. The World War II ships, the larger ones had Armor and made of sterner stuff than what we build today.

      Having numbers doesn’t mean your going be effective at what you do. Lord knows we need more diversity in designs in the US Navy Fleet, but their inable to get new design made without a political blow out or industry snafu mucking up things.

  • Arkansas Traveler

    350 is a good start, we need to get to at least 500 with a minimum of 15 CVNs and at least as many small CV and boomers, attack boats, and sailers and marines to man them.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    On an operational level he proposing delaying currently scheduled deployments in order to “push right” the decommissioning dates. It’s robbing peter to pay paul, but with increase maintenance in between you might squeeze an extra deployment out of some of those 688s.
    Also worth noting that this will increase the operating cost of the SSN fleet as you have more subs in service, but aren’t significantly increasing the number of SSNs actually at sea over the timeframe in question, but you are maintaining a greater “surge capability” that won’t be available if those 688s are decommissioned.

  • Duane

    This is a rhetorical exercise, there won’t be funding for a 355 ship navy. Even Trump has hedged with his actual spending plans, and like everything else he ran on, the reality does not match the campaign rhetoric, whether talking Mexican walls, cheap health care for everybody, etc. etc.

    The real problem with this chimeric goal of 355 ships is that the Navy and Congress willsupposedly do whatever it takes to meet the goal, irregardless of whether it makes sense. So we yank 40 year old ships out of fleet reserve, spend gazillions making them operate, and then you have a 40 year old wheezing bucket of bolts that in no way represents effective 21st century fleet design and warfare. Thus the only thing that matters is declaring a pyhrric victory of achieving a fleet size of 355 ships.

    A perfect example is bringing the old Oliver Hazard Perry frigates back to the fleet. Far better to design and build and operate a true 21st century small surface combatant. One that can incorporate, from the keel up, the latest in weapons,sensor, defenses, and engineering plant technologies, and not try to bolt on stuff that was designed for the 21st century.

    The sensible thing to do is constantly calibrate our fleet to constantly evolving needs and capabilities, both those emerging now, and those we haven’t even conceived of yet. Yes, increasing the fleet size is important, but not at the cost of quality and capability.

    An effective fleet is not just a number of hulls. Sure, quantity is its own quality. But quantity of serviceable, functioning and effective vessels is still the goal, not just counting hulls.

    • Angie Nathan

      I believe that the ships that were mothballed in the anticipation of the future Littoral Combat Ships are considered being dredged back up is in large part to take the sting out of the failure of the LCS program. These ships should have increase the size of our fleet, but it appears now that the Navy wishes this program would just disappear. The utter failure of the LCS program has yet to be revealed, which is why I feel the concept (of the LCS ship) is being blamed, to cover up the abhorrent execution of their construction.

      • Duane

        I’m not going to argue LCS here .. and it’s anything but a failure. The OHP are being looked at not to replace LCS but to replace .. the OHP that were withdrawn from the fleet years ago, just to add up to 355 ships. The number of LCS are not being reduced – they are still at 40, plus another 12 “future frigates” that also are not OHP.

        The kind of ships we will need in the future that we don’t already have are ships capable of mounting the latest weapons and sensors … meaning, for instance, directed energy and rail guns, among others. That requires totally different power plants that the OHP simply cannot provide.

        The same wasteful mentality was applied back in the 1980s with Reagan’s committment to a 600 ship fleet. To get there, the Navy had to haul out all manner of ships that long before deserved to be scrapped or turned into floating museums. The Iowa class BBs turned out to be a deadly disaster, costing the lives of nearly 50 sailors just so the Navy could prove they could shoot 50 year old rounds and somehow be relevant in an age that passed the BB by 50 years earlier, at the outbreak of World War Two. The experiment was a failure and a gigantic waste of taxpayer funds.

        The Navy needs ships that provide 21st century capabilities. The number of ships of each needed type is what matters, not the overall “fleet size”.

      • Duane

        The Navy loves the LCS, ditto with the officers and crews that man it and will fight it when necessary … where do you get that nonsense from?

        Spending way too much time on internet comment boards when you get that divorced from reality.

        • Gen. Buck Turgidson

          As most leftists like yourself do

          • Duane

            You guys just slay me, trying to turn every discussion of military hardware into ideological claptrap, such as you spout here.

            Grow up.

        • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

          I can imagine the Chinese Navy “loves” the LCS. Or at least loves the fact we’re wasting money on it.

          I am not so sure the US Navy “loves” LCS. The idea was naive and the execution has left something to be desired.

          • Duane

            No – the Chinese, and especially the Russians, and all their army of trolls on the internet, hate the LCS. You see it in every thread where it’s mentioned, bringing out the anti-LCS trolls like blowflies on dead animals.

    • Gen. Buck Turgidson

      All the words from just another lib

      • Duane

        Is that what Comrade Putin’s School for Trolls teaches its students to use to engage in their anti-American trolling … just accuse everyone who supports the US Navy and US military’s warfighting capabilities of being a leftist, and then no actual argument is required to convince America to lay down her arms?

        Geesh … the Russians aren’t that ignorant, are they (you)?

  • Curtis Conway

    I support less the sentiment of “If the fleet requirement were relaxed, 355-ships could be achieved quicker,” and more support a change in strategy to build combat relevant ships that can maintain ‘Presence’, and provide real capability in every application.
    A new multi-warfare FFG-X will be much more relevant, and bring more capability to every Battle Force to which it will be attached, even at a $1 Billion each, than its predecessor (LCS), even if it is a Short Burke or National Security Cutter derivative.

    Using the existing Large Deck Amphibious Aviation Platform, the USS America (LHA-6) will bring more units on line faster, at less cost than a new design Light Carrier development project, and come on line at under $3 Billion each. If this becomes reality then more F-35Bs will be required and the US Navy may have to step-up to provide the squadrons, if USMC numbers are not grown to meet that need.

    The DDG-51 Flt III Program coming on-line at both HII Ingalls and BIW must begin apace, which means BIW must get off the dime with their Flt III ECP effort, and HII Ingalls needs to get their unit one complete, tested and delivered. Many elements in the DDG-51 Flt III configuration should be used in the new FFG-X.
    Recent developments seem to have the SSN numbers problem over the next decade at least manageable, and the Ohio Replacement Program seems to be on track with no room for sliding-to-the-right.

    Consideration should be given to growing the FFG-X requirement to get the numbers up more quickly by trading a DDG-51 for two frigates. The LCS platforms should take on the Mine Counter Measure mission, and support SOF and Marine Raider operations.

    Just my 2ȼ.

  • Rob C.

    Unless there completely new design that no one can argue that can get the basic job of a FFG done. There bound be problems getting new boats out there. Attack Subs aren’t subcombats off assembly line, their complex and dangerous beasts that need be built right. Throw away units aren’t going win a war.

  • Steamroller00008

    We all need to get beyond petty ideology attacks. Too much is at stake.

    There will not be enough money to reach the 355 hulls that the military top brass, big contractors, congress, and K Street want. I believe the best way forward is to concentrate on survivable capability, not just the number of hulls. Rational priorities need to be set and adhered to.

    I believe Ballistic Missile and Attack Subs appear by far the most important. Among the last priorities I believe should be those most expensive of ships, those that centralize vulnerability of ships, crews, escorts, aircraft, and money: The Aircraft Carrier. Continue the current force structure plan of just 11 carriers (10 after 2040). Achieving and maintaining that twelfth carrier group will cost just too much, for over decades. Even if directed energy weapons and/or rail guns DO pan out (a big if), our major adversaries will little doubt just keep building more and more (cheaper) anti-ship missiles.

    Multiple forward-thinking (more-unbiased) studies I believe generally agree that more (stealthy) subs, extending life of more-valuable hulls, more smaller but still relatively capable (stealthy) missile hulls, not trying to re-christen old obsolete hulls, and working most effectively with our allies is the smartest course.

    So lets ALL take off our ideology blinders, and work together toward the most effective, most survivable, financially achievable armed forces that our country and our service members deserve!