The fast combat support ship Rainier, seen with the destroyer John S. McCain, is one of two large fleet support ships the Navy wants to take out of service as a budget reduction. (MC3 Declan Barnes / Navy)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s full 30-year shipbuilding plan dropped on Capitol Hill Friday afternoon, providing Congress with an annual update of the service’s strategies for the future size of the fleet, the types of vessels that will make up the force, and the number of ships to be bought each year.
The tables that make up the heart of the plan – charts that show year-by-year data through 2043 – were provided to Congress on April 24 at the request of the House Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. The full plan provides supporting explanations, and comes with additional data, including detailed plans for the disposal of Navy ships.
As reported last month, there is little change between the new fiscal 2014 plan and last year’s version. The overall size of the fleet is about the same, but now centers on achieving a 306-ship fleet baseline — up from today’s 283-ship fleet but down from the previous 313-ship goal. Last year’s fleet plan saw the reaching the revised goal — actually 307 ships — in 2039, although the fleet size dances around the 300-ship level starting in 2020. The revised 2014 plan has the fleet hitting 300 ships in 2019, and reaching 306 ships in 2036.
The planned total for 2015, however, drops from last year’s 276 ships to 270, a reflection of the Navy’s renewed request to decommission seven cruisers and two amphibious ships. The service was rebuffed by Congress when it asked to eliminate the ships in 2013 and 2014, but the need to reduce operating budgets led the request to be made again with the new budget submission.
The deeper dip is only temporary, however, as the new plan shows the fleet size rebounding quickly and regaining parity with last year’s plan by 2019.
Overall spending on shipbuilding also remains quite similar to last year’s plan. The 2014 plan forecasts an average annual shipbuilding budget of $15.4 billion in fiscal 2013 constant dollars over the near-term planning period, or the next decade.
For the mid-term 2024-2033 planning period, the annual budget would rise to $19.8 billion per year — largely due, the Navy said, to the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program. For the far-term 2034-2043 planning period, the annual figure falls back to $15.2 billion.
The figures for last year were $15.1 billion per year in the near term, figured in fiscal 2012 constant dollars; $19.5 billion a year in the mid-term; and $15.9 billion a year in the far term.
One Capitol Hill source familiar with the report saw few significant changes. “The difference between this year’s plan and last year’s plan is so minimal,” the source said. “The 2014 plan is remarkably similar to last year’s plan.”
At least one key lawmaker is unimpressed with the new plan.
"The Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan is a ‘plan’ in name only,” Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said in a statement Friday afternoon. “At current funding levels, it remains an exercise in wishful thinking.”
Forbes made the earlier request for the data tables, and has fumed at the lateness of the plan’s filing, which by law should be sent to Congress along with the president’s annual budget request, normally sent over each year in early February. This year’s full budget was submitted in early April due to the budget crisis.
“The funding shortfalls in the shipbuilding account will leave the fleet with capability gaps in key areas over the coming years,” Forbes continued. “This document continues the woefully inadequate resourcing of our fleet that has already led the Navy's size to fall to near-historic lows. If the decade ahead is one that will be dominated by seapower, this isn't the plan to get there."
While the acquisition plans show little change, there is more churn in the 2014-2017 disposal plan for old ships no longer needed by the service.
For 2015, the Navy is asking to inactivate a total of 20 ships, including those it earlier asked to decommission: cruisers Cowpens, Gettysburg, Chosin, Hue City, Anzio, Vicksburg and Port Royal, and the landing ship docks Whidbey Island and Tortuga.
As reported last month, the service also now is asking to inactivate two of its four fast combat support ships, the Bridge in 2014, and the Rainier in 2015.
Most of the other ships on the inactivation list, including a number of nuclear attack submarines and frigates, were already on the list.
The plan for 2017 also includes the afloat forward staging base ship Ponce, converted in 2012 from an amphibious ship to become a busy asset for the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy also now is seeking to inactivate a mine countermeasures ship, the Avenger, in 2014.
Previously, no minesweepers were on the five-year inactivation list. The minesweeper reductions were included in the 2014 budget request, although no specific ships were named.
The service has been modernizing its 14-ship minesweeper fleet in response to increased demand from combatant commanders, and continuing delays with new littoral combat ships and their mine countermeasures packages have increased the need to keep the older ships in operation. No LCS has deployed with a mine warfare package, and no such package has yet been declared operational.
One minesweeper, the Japan-based Guardian, was wrecked in January on a reef in the Philippines and has been dismantled. The loss was a blow to the force which, at the beginning of this year, had 12 of 14 ships deployed outside the U.S.
The number of old Navy ships available for scrapping also increased dramatically, up from the 14 listed last year to 31 ships. The increase reflects the decision to dispose of a number of frigates, mine hunters and amphibious ships previously held for potential foreign transfer.