Report to Congress on Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding

October 4, 2023 9:44 AM

The following is the Oct. 2, 2023, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The current and planned size and composition of the Navy, the annual rate of Navy ship procurement, the prospective affordability of the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, the capacity of the U.S. shipbuilding industry to execute the Navy’s shipbuilding plans, and Navy proposals for retiring existing ships have been oversight matters for the congressional defense committees for many years.

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 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 355-ship goal predates the Trump and Biden Administrations’ national defense strategies and does not reflect the new, more distributed fleet architecture (i.e., new mix of ships) that the Navy wants to shift toward in coming years. The Navy and the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) have been working since 2019 to develop a successor for the 355-ship force-level goal that would reflect current national defense strategy and the new fleet architecture, but have not been able to come to closure on a successor goal. A July 18, 2023, press report stated that the Navy on June 20, 2023, had submitted to the congressional defense committees a congressionally mandated Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report that calls for a future fleet with 381 manned ships. It is not clear whether the Administration endorses the 381-ship fleet as the new force-level goal for the Navy.

The Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget requests $32.8 billion in shipbuilding funding for, among other things, the procurement of nine new ships, including one Columbia (SSBN-826) class ballistic missile submarine, two Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines, two Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers, two Constellation (FFG-62) class frigates, one AS(X) submarine tender, and one John Lewis (TAO-205) class oiler. The Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget also proposes retiring 11 ships, including two relatively young Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs). The Navy’s FY2024 five year (FY2024-FY2028) shipbuilding plan includes a total of 55 ships, or an average of 11 per year. Given a 35-year average surface life for Navy ships (a planning factor that assumes that all Navy ships would be kept in service to the end of their expected service lives), an average shipbuilding rate of 11 ships per year, if sustained for 35 years, would increase the size of the Navy to 385 ships over a 35-year period (i.e., by the 2060s).

The Navy fell below 300 battle force ships (the kind of ships that count toward the quoted size of the Navy and the Navy’s 355-ship force-structure goal) in August 2003, and has generally remained between 270 and 300 battle force ships since then. As of September 25, 2023, the Navy included 295 battle force ships. The Navy projects that under its FY2024 budget submission, the Navy would include 293 battle force ships at the end of FY2024 and 291 battle force ships at the end of FY2028.

The FY2024 30-year (FY2024-FY2053) shipbuilding plan, similar to the FY2023 30-year (FY2023-FY2052) shipbuilding plan, includes three potential 30-year shipbuilding profiles and resulting 30-year force-level projections, referred to as PB2024 (President’s budget for FY2024), Alternative 2, and Alternative 3. PB2024 and Alternative 2 assume no real (i.e., above-inflation) growth in shipbuilding funding, while Alternative 3 assumes some amount of real growth in shipbuilding funding. Under PB2024, the Navy would increase to a peak of 331 manned ships in FY2039-FY2040 and then decrease to 319 manned ships in FY2053. Under Alternative 2, the Navy would increase to a peak of 331 manned ships in FY2039, and then decrease to 328 manned ships in FY2053. Under Alternative 3, the Navy would increase to 356 manned ships in FY2042 and continue increasing to 367 manned ships by FY2053.

Download the document here.

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