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Report to Congress on Navy Force Structure

The following is the Nov. 24, 2020 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

In December 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 Trump Administration has identified the achievement of a Navy of 355 or more ships within 10 years as a high priority. The 355-ship goal was made U.S. policy by Section 1025 of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115-91 of December 12, 2017).

The Navy’s 355-ship force-level goal is the result of a Force Structure Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Navy in 2016. The Navy and DOD since 2019 have been working to develop a new force-level goal to replace the current 355-ship force-level goal. The conclusion of this work and the release of its results to Congress have been delayed repeatedly since late 2019. Remarks from Navy and DOD officials since 2019 indicate that the Navy’s next force-level goal will introduce at least some elements of a once-in-a-generation change in fleet architecture. This new fleet architecture is expected to feature a smaller proportion of larger ships (such as large-deck aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, large amphibious ships, and large resupply ships); a larger proportion of smaller ships (such as frigates, corvettes, smaller amphibious ships, smaller resupply ships, and perhaps smaller aircraft carriers); and a new third tier of surface vessels about as large as corvettes or large patrol craft that will be either lightly manned, optionally manned, or unmanned, as well as large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). On October 6, 2020, then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper presented some details regarding a new Navy force-level goal, called Battle Force 2045, for achieving a fleet of more than 500 manned and unmanned ships by 2045, including 355 manned ships prior to 2035.

The Navy states that its proposed FY2021 budget requests the procurement of eight new ships, but this figure includes LPD-31, an LPD-17 Flight II amphibious ship that Congress procured (i.e., authorized and appropriated procurement funding for) in FY2020. Excluding this ship, the Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requests the procurement of seven new ships rather than eight.

A figure of 7 new ships is less than the 11 that the Navy requested for FY2020 (a figure that excludes CVN-81, an aircraft carrier that Congress authorized in FY2019) or the 13 that Congress procured in FY2020 (a figure that again excludes CVN-81, but includes the above-mentioned LPD-31 as well as an LHA amphibious assault ship that Congress also procured in FY2020). The figure of 7 new ships is also less than the 10 ships that the Navy projected under its FY2020 budget submission that it would request for FY2021, and less than the average ship procurement rate that would be needed over the long run, given current ship service lives, to achieve and maintain a 355-ship fleet.

In dollar terms, the Navy is requesting a total of about $19.9 billion for its shipbuilding account for FY2021. This is about $3.9 billion (16.3%) less than the Navy requested for the account for FY2020, about $4.1 billion (17.0%) less than Congress provided for the account for FY2020, and about $3.6 billion (15.3%) less than the $23.5 billion that the Navy projected under its FY2020 budget submission that it would request for the account for FY2021.

The Navy states that its FY2021 five-year (FY2021-FY2025) shipbuilding plan includes 44 new ships, but this figure includes the above-mentioned LPD-31 and LHA amphibious ships that Congress procured in FY2020. Excluding these two ships, the Navy’s FY2021 five-year shipbuilding plan includes 42 new ships, which is 13 less than the 55 that were included in the FY2020 (FY2020-FY2024) five-year plan and 12 less than the 54 that were projected for the period FY2021-FY2025 under the Navy’s FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan.

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