SASC Defense Bill Requires Navy to Present Fleet Plan Directly to Congress

September 23, 2021 7:23 PM
Guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) conducts carrier strike group integrated operations USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on June 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Senate Armed Services Committee has crafted legislation to give the Navy more ownership over its fleet architecture studies, according to the text of the annual defense policy bill released this week.

Language in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act would require the chief of naval operations to present a force structure assessment to Congress within six months of any “significant change” to items like strategic doctrine, force laydown, operating concepts, or shipbuilding.

The bill’s provision would cover modifications to “strategic guidance that results in changes to theater campaign plans or warfighting scenarios” and “strategic construction of vessels or aircraft that affects sustainable peacetime presence or warfighting response timelines.” It would also include any changes to “operating concepts, including employment cycles, crewing constructs, or operational tempo limits, that affect peacetime presence or warfighting response timelines” and “assigned missions that affect the type or quantity of force elements.”

The provision’s inclusion in the annual policy bill comes after the release of the Navy’s last force structure assessment was stalled due to a review from the Office of the Secretary of Defense under the Trump administration, USNI News reported last year. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper last year took control of the Navy’s force structure assessment, a periodic evaluation of the types and quantities of battleforce ships the Navy needs, and delayed the eventual rollout of the fleet study.

The Navy and the Pentagon are currently conducting their own respective evaluations of naval fleet architecture as the Biden administration relooks at the National Defense Strategy and conducts a Global Force Posture Review, USNI News reported this week.

The Senate’s version of the policy bill also features a provision that seeks to limit the Navy’s ability to decommission ships before the end of their service lives. But the bill allows the Navy Secretary to provide an exception to a ship the service wants to decommission if the Navy meets certain criteria and presents its reasoning to Congress. The secretary must explain why the Navy can’t move the ship it wants to decommission into the reserve fleet or the Coast Guard, or sustain the ship with “reduced operating status” or “reduced capability.” The secretary must also show why the ship is not necessary to achieve the National Defense Strategy or meet combatant commanders’ requests.

The Navy in its FY 2022 budget request asked to retire four Littoral Combat Ships – USS Coronado (LCS-4), USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9) – as a cost-saving measure. The service commissioned Forth Worth in 2012 and Coronado in 2014. Detroit commissioned in 2016, while Little Rock commissioned one year later in 2017. The LCS is slated for a service life of approximately 25 years.

The service’s request also sought to decommission seven of its aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers, but the move received criticism from lawmakers. The House Armed Services Committee earlier this month approved an amendment that would allow the Navy to retire USS Port Royal (CG-73), USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), USS Hué City (CG-66) and USS Anzio (CG-68), meaning the remaining three cruisers the Navy asked to retire – USS San Jacinto (CG-56), USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and USS Monterey (CG-61) – would remain in the fleet.

While SASC approved its version of the defense policy bill in July, SASC Chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Ranking Member Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) filed the text of the bill this week, making it publicly available.

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne

Mallory Shelbourne is a reporter for USNI News. She previously covered the Navy for Inside Defense and reported on politics for The Hill.
Follow @MalShelbourne

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