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Next Navy Force Structure Assessment Unlikely to Alter Plan for 355-Ship Fleet

Carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) lead ships of their respective carrier strike groups as they transit the Philippine Sea on Nov. 16, 2018. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to indicate the 2019 Force Structure Assesment will be informed by reviews of operational plans and capability assessments rather than include those plans and assessments.

CAPITOL HILL — The Navy’s next in-depth look at force structure, due sometime in 2019, is unlikely to alter plans for building a 355-ship fleet, according to the service’s top leaders.

When the 2019 Force Structure Assessment is released, it will be informed by reviews of operational plans by force leaders and capability assessments, Vice Adm. William R. Merz, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9), said during a Tuesday hearing before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower.

As for the planned fleet size, Merz said 355 is still considered the minimum number of ships needed to face potential threats from Russia, China and other potential adversaries.

“The FSA will influence two or three budget cycles. It’s a pace that is very aligned with how quickly we can adjust the shipbuilding plan,” Merz said during his testimony. “We have seen nothing from the combatant commands to date, or from Secretary (of Defense James) Mattis’ National Defense Strategy, that will give us any indication we’ll be coming off that 355-ship in composition or in total numbers.”

Every strategy document released is reviewed by Merz’s office to determine whether there’s a change in the Navy’s basic philosophy of operating forward deployed ships in multiple locations, he said while speaking with reporters after his testimony.

“As long as there’s no deviation from that (philosophy), we don’t anticipate a significant change in force structure by the FSA,” Merz said. “Beyond that, then it’s threat driven. What type of ships, what presence do we need? All that’s laid out in the National Defense Strategy, and right now we don’t really have any indication we’ll be coming off our 355 number. If anything it’s going to continue to grow.”

The FSA helps establish the types of ships the Navy should be buying and the capabilities these ships should have, Assistant Secretary James Geurts, who is the Navy’s top weapons buyer, said while also appearing before the subcommittee Tuesday.

“I don’t foresee any FSA changes that will change anything in the immediate or near-term shipbuilding strategy,” Geurts said while speaking with reporters after his testimony.

The Navy has an aggressive shipbuilding plan to achieve a 355-ship fleet. Within five years the Geurts said the Navy plans to have a 327-ship fleet. The Navy plan predicts fielding a 355-ship fleet in the 2030s.

The end number of ships might change a little, but Merz said if anything the number would increase.

“I’m typically more concerned with are there any indicators that I need to change capability, something that I had to do much quicker,” Merz said.



  • NavySubNuke

    It will be interesting to see how the budget the Navy submits to DoD and DoD ultimately submits to the President balances out the funding cut that the President has directed.
    While Congress will ultimately decide the final budget it will be interesting to see what DoD thinks is the right answer. The 355 ship fleet was a product of the dying days of the Obama administration and it has continued under Trump, given the realities we are facing in the Pacific I would be surprised to see it change now.

    • Rocco

      I’m all for seeing us increase our Navy ships in numbers, however the increased way we waste money on useless ships & technology has to stop now! Also a really good look into the future on how Naval aviation is going to foresee how much we spend & what we really should spend it on! A bigger flat top As in the America class LHA is what I hope evolves to an all purpose platform.

  • John e deford

    I do think that we need to. Build instead of more carrier,s and reconsider building nuke powered battleships the montana style only arm them with 4 or 5 rail guns. Create room the empty spaces,with missle launchers.

    • Rocco

      Need to what? Montana class BB with rail guns no….I guess you don’t follow in the Zumwalts!!!

      • Augustine’s Lion

        The zumwalts were a f**ng disaster. I agree with John.

        • Rocco

          I never said I Support the Zumwalts!!! So why would you agree with him as he thinks a modern rail gun on an old BB would work??!!! I would rather see a Montana class built as new as designed originally but with modern electronic & radar etc!!

          • Centaurus

            You may as well build a BB with sails.

  • Taxpayer71

    The 9 Feb 2017 congressionally-chartered Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) fleet architecture study: Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy contained the conclusion that:

    The CSBA study offers no quantitative analysis regarding “salvo competition” to answer key questions such as the Probability of Raid Annellation (PRA) by a notional distributed lethality SAG or CVBG against an ASCM saturation raid; and, how many such raids can be defended against before having to retire to rearm. The CSBA statement that: “active defenses may, however be insufficient to win the salvo competition…” leaves unaddressed the central question of whether the envisioned active defense strategy will or will not be sufficient.

    Acknowledging that PRA assessments are complex even for a single ship of a class, the challenge appears to be the assessment of PRA for a battle group, e.g. a SAG or CVBG. The results of this level of analysis are essential as at least one significant consideration in decisions on future fleet design that has to be driven by the hard realities of the near peer threat, especially in defense against sea control missions in AD/AA area. In the absence of such objective quantitative analysis, fleet design will predictably continue to focus on the acquisition of more of the currently programmed mix of air, surface and subsurface forces without an assessment of whether that force would be successful in sea control in an AD/AA area against a near peer, with or without suppression of enemy ISR.

    The 2019 Force Structure Assessment and related fleet design studies must be grounded in objective quantitative analysis if the nation is to be assured that the navy forces that are funded will indeed prevail in achieving and maintaining sea control against a near peer. The decision is too important and too expensive to be founded on intuition and institutional inertia.

    • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

      Based on VADM Mertz’s comments, it seems as if the 2019 FSA answer is preordained. It better be 355 or more, or go do the analysis again!

      My problem on these assessments is they don’t seem to address capability. Or look at the Fleet’s role and functions within context of the Joint force.

  • Centaurus

    Perhaps some prefer to sound like college boys, but not for the reasons that we expect ?

    • Rocco

      That’s makes no sense to me!!

  • Ed L

    Built the arsenal ship design by HII by Taking the Diesels out of the the LPD -17 hull design and double the shaft horse power by putting 4 gas turbines and variable pitch screws just like the Burke’s.

    • Rocco

      Why 4? America class only has 2 & should really have 4!!

      • Ed L

        So it will have 1,000,000 shaft Horse Power and do 28 knots plus like the Makin Island

        • Rocco

          America has the same powerplant as Making Island!!

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    Work fine? Nobody seems to know what to do with them!

  • NavySubNuke

    LOL. There you go deleting posts out of shame and embarrassment again Baby Whine Whine.
    It really is amazing how nearly everything you say is wrong.

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    The Zumwalt should’ve never progressed further than a single-ship technology demonstrator. As with LCS: the Navy bet big on multiple immature concepts. And lost.

    Railguns and directed energy weapons are R&D projects and not yet operationalized. 2025 seems more than a bit optimistic.

    Arguably: Zumwalt class for the foreseeable future has less capability than a Flight II DDG-51 and costs about 4x as much:

    – Fewer VLS cells (80 vs. 96 on DDG).
    – Fewer helos (1 vs. 2).
    – No main gun – which means it will need a close escort.
    – DDG-51 cost: $1.8 billion each.
    – Zumwalt cost: $7.5 billion each.

    The ironic thing is that Admiral Zumwalt was focused on bringing High/Low capability mix to the Fleet. I doubt he’d be very happy with this white elephant.

  • NavySubNuke

    “The long-anticipated Force Structure Assessment calls for a fleet of 355 ships to counter “a growing China and a resurgent Russia,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced today.”
    Source: Breaking Defense “The 355-Ship Fleet: Navy Wants Even More Ships Than Trump Pledged”
    Dated: December 16, 2016 at 9:10 AM