Dreaming of the 313-Ship Navy Pt 1
The Navy will never reach the long-cherished goal of 313 ships unless it changes its shipbuilding priorities, to be blunt. Metaphorically speaking about procurement, it is still shopping at Tiffany’s while the world goes to Walmart. Despite all reality, however GovExec reveals how the Top admiral affirms commitment to 313-ship fleet:
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said he expects the future fleet will have at least 313 ships, the number of ships in the service’s most recent plan.
“As an operator, the 313-ship fleet is what I see as the floor of what we need,” he told an audience at the National Press Club during a Government Executive leadership breakfast on Tuesday.
That’s the fantasy, here is the truth of the matter:
At 283 ships, the service has the smallest fleet since 1916. While the array of capabilities in the fleet is critical, so too is the number of platforms. A ship only can be in one place at one time, and with global responsibilities increasing, the Navy has been forced to deploy an ever-growing percentage of its ships at any given time to meet security requirements.
Under current budget projections, the Navy cannot build and maintain a 313-ship fleet without a substantial infusion of procurement funds or a dramatic reduction in shipbuilding costs. A recent paper by naval expert Ronald O’Rourke at the Congressional Research Service concluded the Navy would have to build more than 12 ships every year during the next 18 years at an estimated annual cost of $23 billion to $25 billion. Yet during the past 17 years, the Navy has built an average of 5.4 ships annually, and its annual shipbuilding budget is now about $11 billion.
Note the key points I have underlined. The reality is the money just isn’t there to buy everything the USN wants to build, what I call the 5 Battleships of supercarriers, Aegis cruisers, Aegis destroyers, nuclear attack submarines, and large amphibious ships. The Navy might defend their need for such voluminous and individually powerful warships as each performing a specific and necessary function within the fleet. In argument, it should be noted that each also are constructed for the power projection role and often duplicates the other’s roles. There is very little difference in the role and armament of the Aegis cruisers and destroyers, and thanks to land attack cruise missiles, can do long-range surface aerial attack like the large deck carriers, as can the attack submarines so armed. In wartime, the Marine helicopter carriers can forget their role as amphibious ships and carry 20+ Harrier jump jets in the close air support role like the larger flattops, as happened in both Gulf Wars. Also, the conventional dock landing ships are never used in the beach assault role as they are constructed, but as glorified troop and cargo transports, something our sealift vessels can do faster and at less cost.
The USN currently has enough supercarriers (10) Marine light carriers (10), and Aegis missiles ships (80) to last us for a few decades without replacement. The only warships currently under construction with any real purpose are the Virginia class submarines, to guard against China, Russia, and unexpected peer threats. As Vigilis at Molten Eagle reminds us “Our submarines are VITAL to national defense and intelligence gathering, these days. No combatant ship has a higher deployment rate than our subs.” Also some type of littoral combat ship to contend with the myriad smaller threats such as pirates and smugglers, and to replace the still essential but over-aged Perry class frigates. Yet, with the Virginia’s at over $2 billion each, and the LCS Freedom and Independence breaching $700 million, we think there can be and must be low cost and effective alternatives which should be considered for future construction even for these.
We close with the following excellent commentary from a sometimes rival blog at Information Dissemination, while resiting the urge to say “I told you so”:
The Navy is reducing the total budget $31.7 billion over five years through 2015, an average of $6.34 billion annually, by deferring or canceling weapons programs by $7 billion and cutting the shipbuilding account by $18 billion (an annual average of $3.6 billion). In other words, when it came time to reduce the Navy budget, shipbuilding took over 55% of the cuts! The shipbuilding budget only makes up 10% of the entire Navy budget at around $13 billion annually, but takes more than half the total cut? WTF? With priorities like that, it is legitimate to ask whether the Navy is a sea service, or a government jobs program. Congressman, next time any Admiral says 313 ships under oath, keep in mind the Admiral is knowingly being dishonest to your face.
I rest my case (until tommorrow).