The U.S. Navy has told Congress it plans to increase its fleet from 289 vessels to a post-2020 requirement of 306 ships, which will cost roughly $4 billion more per year than average, in large part because of the replacement of 14 Ohio class submarines.
The annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2015 was submitted to Congress on July 3, and outlined plans for the addition of Small Surface Combatants of the littoral combat fleet, and the costly replacement of the Ohio class ballistic missile submarines with 12 new nuclear ballistic missile subs.
"Beginning in FY2020 and running through the end of the 30-year plan horizon, the plan requires an average annual investment of about $17.2 billion to finance, which is about $4 billion a year more than our historical average annual investment of about $13 billion a year,” the report reads.
“In particular, for the period while we are procuring the Ohio Replacement SSBN — essentially FY25-FY34 — the Navy will have to provide an average of $19.7 billion annually with the peak year in FY32 at slightly more than $24 billion. Even if the Ohio Replacement Program is removed from the resource total, the average funding required beginning in FY2020 is about $14 to $15 billion a year to build the FSA force.”
The 306-ship force contains: 12 ballistic missile submarines; 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers; 48 nuclear-powered attack submarines; 0-4 nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines; 88 large, multi-mission surface combatants; 52 small, multirole surface combatants; 33 amphibious landing ships; 29 combat logistics force ships; and 33 support vessels.
The Ohio replacement is a controversial move, as the 12 new vessels will come at a price tag of roughly $100 billion, and result in cancelling a fourth flight of Arleigh Burke destroyers and reducing operation of 11 Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers. The report states that funding for this replacement isn’t secured yet.
“The Department of the Navy can only afford the SSBN procurement costs with significant increases in our top line or by having the SSBN funded from sources that do not result in any reductions to the Department of the Navy's current resourcing level.”
In addition to funding challenges, the timing of retiring ships will be an issue. With three or four ships coming online per year between 1980 and 1990, many of the ships in the existing fleet will hit their end of life at roughly the same time.
To cope with this in an economic environment in which the Navy cannot recapitalize these ships at the rate at which they retire, the department may use ships past their expected service life and upgrade older ships with new platforms.
“To further minimize the impact of ship retirements, the Department of the Navy plans to retain ships until at least their expected service life,” the report said.
“Ships will be upgraded with appropriate payloads and flexible combat systems to stay relevant. The service lives of specific ships will be extended, if technically feasible, and new ships will incorporate modularity and open-architecture mechanical, electrical and information systems to enable rapid and economical upgrades and adaptations.”
Plans to build out the littoral combat fleet are still going ahead, according to the Fiscal Year 2015 report, though only through the 12 additional ships procured through 2018 —making a total of 32 LCS vessels — after which the Navy will consider new designs for Small Surface Combatants.
“In the first Future Years Defense Plan, the Littoral Combat Ship continues in full-rate production, with a total of 12 ships procured (FY2015-2018).
"As directed by the Secretary of Defense, the Navy is exploring options for Small Surface Combatant design, including a completely new design, existing ship designs (including the LCS) and a modified LCS. For FY2019 (two ships procured) and beyond, the procurement will be based on the results of the study.”
The report also outlines the Navy’s plans for retiring ships, which includes the retirement of 31 battle force ships during the Future Years Defense Plan and the disposal of 41 inactive ships — 38 by dismantlement and three during sink exercises.