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Fleet Size Hovers Around 300 Ships in New U.S. Navy Plan

Mar. 28, 2012 - 07:15PM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
Increased production of new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers is a key feature of the U.S. Navy's new 30-year shipbuilding plan. Flight IIA versions of the ships are to serve for 40 years.
Increased production of new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers is a key feature of the U.S. Navy's new 30-year shipbuilding plan. Flight IIA versions of the ships are to serve for 40 years. (MC3 Benjamin Crossley / U.S. Navy)
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The U.S. Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan for 2013 shows few unexpected changes, projecting a slightly smaller average fleet size and slightly reduced shipbuilding rate.

The plan, sent this week to Congress, projects an average fleet size through 2042 of 298 ships, a drop of seven ships from last year’s 306-ship standard. The force is projected to rise from today’s 282-ship level to 300 ships by 2019.

Ten fewer ships are scheduled to be bought over the three-decade time span, reducing last year’s 276-ship 30-year total to 268, a drop from 9.2 ships per year to 8.9.

Many of the force reductions already have been announced, particularly new orders to decommission seven Aegis cruisers more than a decade before previously scheduled, a slowing in the rate of ballistic missile defense destroyer conversions and cancellation of plans to buy more than 10 small and cheap Joint High Speed Vessels. The amphibious fleet also is being reduced by one ship.

Other changes already announced were shifts in the aircraft carrier and littoral combat ship construction rates, and a decision to push back new ballistic missile submarine construction by two years.

The new plan covers the years 2013 to 2042, while last year’s documents covered 2012 to 2041.

The mid-term planning period covers 2023 to 2032, while far-term planning begins in 2033.

For the near term, the service projects an annual shipbuilding budget of $15.1 billion in 2012 constant dollars, a baseline used throughout the plan.

The rate of spending rises to $19.5 billion a year in the mid-term, due largely to the SSBN(X) Ohio Replacement Program, the effort to replace existing Trident ballistic missile submarines.

Average yearly expenditures fall to $15.9 billion per year for the far-term period.

Over the entire 30-year plan, the annual ship construction budget is projected at $16.8 billion per year, including Navy and National Defense Sealift Fund ships.

For the most part, the annual shipbuilding rate drops across the plan, but a number of ships are simply delayed, or shifted to the right, rather than eliminated. Construction rates tend to pick up in the 2020s, then again fall below last year’s projections in the 2030s.

Destroyer construction shows a jump, and from 2023 on out two or three ships a year are procured. Last year’s plan showed one or two ships a year, with three ships only in 2036.

Construction of attack submarines jumps to three in 2020, falling to one per year in 2026, whereas last year the plan showed one per year for every year beginning in 2023.

Force level projections reflect the Navy’s decision to stretch the build time of new aircraft carriers from five to seven years, avoiding situations where the force, set by law at 11 ships, would temporarily rise to 12 flattops. Now, the John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), funded in 2013, will be delivered in 2022 rather than 2020, and the yet-to-be-named CVN 80, funded in 2018, will deliver in 2027.

Overall, the carrier force drops to 10 ships beginning in 2040, where last year’s plan showed 11 into that decade.

The attack submarine force, projected last year to reach a low of 39 boats in 2030, now bottoms out at 43 subs in 2028. The level begins to rise again in 2032 and reaches 50 hulls in 2037. Last year’s plan projected only 45 submarines in service for most of the late 2030s.

The number of SSBN ballistic missile submarines drops from 14 boats to 13 boats in 2027. But whereas last year’s plan never fell below 12 ships for any given year, the new plan shows a force of 11 ships in 2029 and 10 in 2032, holding there until the number starts to rise in the early 2040s.

The plan for SSGN guided-missile submarines remains the same. Two ships are decommissioned in 2026, and the last two are gone by 2028. The Navy plans to replace the ships with a stretched version of SSN 774 Virginia-class attack submarines.

The number of large surface combatants — cruisers and destroyers — drops in the near term but surpasses earlier projections starting in the late 2020s. The force drops in 2014 to 78 ships, down from last year’s 85. The revised numbers remain from two to 10 ships below the old numbers until 2027, when the new plan begins to show more ships in service than under the old plan. The growth in the number of destroyers in service is sustained through the remainder of the plan, with an increase of as many as 11 ships a year.

The small surface combatant category, including littoral combat ships (LCS), frigates and minesweepers, now shows an all-LCS force in 2029, six years sooner than previously forecast.

The annual amphibious ship force level is one or two ships below last year’s, returning to parity in the 2030s.

The plan provides few, if any, new details on construction plans in the current FYDP, as those are included in the Navy’s 2013 budget request submitted in February.

But the second FYDP, for the years 2018 to 2022, includes the most ambitious, complex and expensive new start of the plan, the SSBN(X) submarine. The Navy plans for 12 new ships to replace 14 existing submarines, with detail design to begin in 2017 and the lead ship to be funded in 2021 — a change already announced and two years later than last year’s schedule. The price tag for the first SSBNX is projected at $11.7 billion, including $4.5 billion in non-recurring engineering costs and $7.2 billion for the ship’s construction.

The second FYDP also will feature the start of the LSD(X) dock landing ship replacement program. The new ships will be delivered sooner than when the older LSDs are to be retired, a move the Navy says is “ahead of need,” but necessary to preserve the shipbuilding industrial base and reduce the risk associated with the decision to operate an amphibious force of only 32 ships, rather than the 38-ship force the Marines say they need.

At the lower end of the scale, the first two of five planned T-AGOS(X) ocean surveillance ship replacements and the first two of four planned T-ARS(X) salvage ship replacements also are to be purchased in the second FYDP.

Other details listed in the new plan include:

• Up to 33 Flight III DDG-51-class destroyers will be bought featuring the new Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), a replacement for the Aegis system’s SPY-1 series of phased-array sensors. Twenty of the ships will come in during the mid-term planning period, the last in 2030. Procurement of an “affordable follow-on, multi-mission” destroyer is to begin in 2031.

• Both versions of the littoral combat ship (LCS) will continue to be purchased through 2026, completing the initial, 55-ship inventory. The first follow-on LCS(X) replacement is to be bought beginning in 2030.

• Procurement of a Virginia-class replacement submarine design, tentatively designated SSN 774(X), is aiming for a 2033 start.

• Construction of Flight I LHA(R) amphibious assault ship replacements is to continue, with one ship being built every four years starting in 2024.

• The LSD(X) dock landing ship replacement program remains at a total of 10 ships, the last coming in 2032.

• Plans remain to build two replacement submarine tenders, with one each in 2023 and 2025.

• The two long-serving LCC command ships, in service since 1970 and 1971, will be replaced with new construction starting in 2032.

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