Report to Congress on Navy Force Structure

October 2, 2019 9:16 PM

The following is the Oct. 1, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

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.

On December 15, 2016, the Navy released a force-structure goal that calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. The 355-ship force-level goal is the result of a Force Structure Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Navy in 2016. The Navy states that a new FSA is now underway as the successor to the 2016 FSA. This new FSA, Navy officials state, is to be completed by the end of 2019, or possibly sooner.

Navy and Marine Corps officials have suggested in their public remarks that this new FSA could change not only the 355-ship figure, but even more fundamentally, the fleet’s architecture, meaning the fleet’s basic mix of ship and aircraft types. Some observers, viewing statements by Navy officials, believe the new FSA might shift the Navy’s surface force to a more-distributed architecture that includes a reduced proportion of large surface combatants (i.e., cruisers and destroyers), an increased proportion of small surface combatants (i.e., frigates and LCSs), and a newly created third tier of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs). Statements from the Commandant of the Marine Corps suggest that the new FSA might change the Navy’s amphibious ship force to an architecture based on a new amphibious lift target and a new mix of amphibious ships. Some observers believe the new FSA might also change the Navy’s undersea force to a more-distributed architecture that includes, in addition to attack submarines (SSNs) and bottom-based sensors, a new element of extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (XLUUVs), which might be thought of as unmanned submarines.

The Navy’s proposed FY2020 budget requests funding for the procurement of 12 new ships, including one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) class aircraft carrier, three Virginia-class attack submarines, three DDG-51 class Aegis destroyers, one FFG(X) frigate, two John Lewis (TAO-205) class oilers, and two TATS towing, salvage, and rescue ships. The Navy’s FY2020 five-year (FY2020-FY2024) shipbuilding plan includes 55 new ships, or an average of 11 new ships per year.

The Navy’s FY2020 30-year (FY2020-FY2049) shipbuilding plan includes 304 ships, or an average of about 10 per year. If the FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan is implemented, the Navy projects that it will achieve a total of 355 ships by FY2034. This is about 20 years sooner than projected under the Navy’s FY2019 30-year shipbuilding plan—an acceleration primarily due to a decision announced by the Navy in April 2018, after the FY2019 plan was submitted, to increase the service lives of all DDG-51 destroyers to 45 years. Although the Navy projects that the fleet will reach a total of 355 ships in FY2034, the Navy in that year and subsequent years will not match the composition called for in the FY2016 FSA.

One issue for Congress is whether the new FSA that the Navy is conducting will change the 355-ship force-level objective established by the 2016 FSA and, if so, in what ways. Another issue for Congress concerns the prospective affordability of the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan. Another issue for Congress concerns the potential impacts on FY2020 Navy shipbuilding programs of using one or more continuing resolutions to fund DOD operations for at least some portion of FY2020. Decisions that Congress makes regarding Navy force structure and shipbuilding plans can substantially affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

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