WASHINGTON – Tossing overboard the budget constraints that have weighed down the US Navy’s attempts to grow its fleet, the world’s most powerful sea service is embarking on the biggest proposed expansion since the early 1980s, upping its goals from today’s 308 ships to a whopping 355 ships – beyond even the incoming Trump administration’s stated 350-ship goal.
The new Force Structure Assessment (FSA) provides one more aircraft carrier, 16 more large surface combatants and 18 more attack submarines over the current FSA. The plan also calls for 4 more amphibious warfare ships, 3 more expeditionary support bases and five more support ships.
The FSA also restores the Navy’s goal of 52 small surface combatants – littoral combat ships (LCS) and their follow-on frigate design – beating back outgoing Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s attempts to limit the total to 40 ships.
The new plan does not address increased numbers of aircraft or personnel. Senior Navy leaders are on record as calling for increases in strike fighters – particularly Boeing F/A-18 E and F Super Hornets – and the 2018 budget is expected to request a significant number.
The expansion of the carrier force from 11 to 12 ships would also likely mean the need for an additional air wing. Each wing generally includes 48 strike fighters plus electronic warfare and early warning aircraft.
Other Navy sources have indicated the need for more sailors, citing total figures between 340,000 and 350,000. The Navy today has nearly 324,000 uniformed personnel.
A Navy spokesman, in a statement Friday to Navy Times, noted that, "additional studies will be needed to address the number of personnel needed for the increased force size."
In a statement Friday morning, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus noted the FSA is only one part of a series of reviews being completed by the Navy, and "does not address potential options that may come out of the ongoing review of the potential Future Fleet Architecture studies directed by Congress and completed in October 2016.
"As we evaluate the options presented in these studies and move to include them in our plans for tomorrow’s Navy," Mabus added, "this FSA will need to be updated to reflect those changes that are determined to be most beneficial to meeting the Navy’s missions of the future."
No cost estimates for the new fleet have yet been provided. Mabus’ statement noted "the 2016 FSA was not constrained by budget control act funding levels."
Navy sources indicated the FSA was revised upward after the election of Donald Trump and the all-but-certain likelihood of lifting budgetary restraints that have forced all the military services to make unwanted cuts.
The Navy does not expect even the new fleet goals to meet all combatant commander needs. Mabus, in the statement, noted that to do so would require the service, "to double its current annual budget, which is essentially unrealistic in both current and expected future fiscal environments."
The resulting FSA, Mabus said, is "better aligned with resources available."
The proposed fleet expansion is definitely a shot across the bow aimed at Russia and China, whose naval activities have increased dramatically in recent years. A resurgent Russian fleet is fielding new submarines and lethal small combat ships armed with long-range cruise missiles, and a Russian aircraft carrier task force is supporting ground combat operations in Syria.
In the Pacific, China is creating a vastly improved and modern Navy modeled in many ways on the US Navy, and seeking to supplant the US as a stability guarantor in the western Pacific. The US has been shifting its forces from the Atlantic to the Pacific, seeking a 60-40 Pac/Lant split, but Russia’s increasing and provocative activity has forced reconsideration of the need to maintain larger naval forces in the European and Mediterranean theaters.
Among the biggest industrial beneficiaries to the new fleet would be shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), General Dynamics (GD), and one or both of the smaller Fincantieri Marinette Marine and Austal USA yards, along with Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, L3 and power suppliers General Electric and Babcock and Wilcox.
But it could be some time before major increases are realized – it takes years to build a ship, beginning with long-lead items such as nuclear reactors and major propulsion items, before real construction can begin. Even then, the Navy generally needs one or more years of final fitting out and training before a new ship becomes operationally effective.
The Navy did not release any timelines for the 355-ship FSA, nor did it indicate any new ship types are planned.
Here is a type-by-type breakdown of the new plan:
Aircraft carriers: Grow the fleet from 11 to 12 ships. "A minimum of 12 aircraft carriers [is] required to meet the increased warfighting response requirements of the Defense Planning Guidance Defeat/Deny force sizing direction," the Navy said in Friday’s statement.
Large Surface Combatants: jumps from a total of 88 ships to 104. All ships in this category today, with the exception of the 3-ship Zumwalt class, are Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers performing a variety of tasks, including air defense of aircraft carriers and ballistic missile defense. The Navy is in the early stages of developing a new surface combatant that could appear in the 2030s.
Small Surface Combatants: The total holds stable at 52 ships, consisting of LCSs and frigates. The Navy has never lowered its requirement for 52 ships in this category despite the efforts in recent years by the Office of the Secretary of Defense to cap the total at 40 or even fewer ships. The ships, the Navy said, "are required to meet Defeat/Deny challenges and support ongoing Counter Terrorism, Counter Illicit Trafficking, and Theater Security Cooperation/Building Partnerships efforts."
Amphibious Warfare Ships: Grows from 34 ships to 38. These ships – big-deck LHD and LHA amphibious assault ships, LPD amphibious transport docks and LSD dock landing ships, and LXR amphibious ship replacements – meet a lift requirement for the US Marine Corps and are valuable in a wide variety of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief situations.
Attack Submarine: Grows from today’s 48-ship level to 66. This is perhaps the most ambitious goal in the revised FSA. The demand on the fleet has been exceptional for many years and there is widespread acknowledgement more boats are needed, but the growth impact will be difficult to manage as the industrial base gears up to build new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines in addition to existing Virginia-class attack subs.
Guided Missile Submarines: There is no change to the fleet plan to zero-out this type as the four existing ships reach the end of their service life. Their missions will be taken over by new Block V Virginia-class attack submarines built with a Virginia Payload Module to carry extra weapons.
Ballistic Missile Submarines: No change to the requirement for 12 SSBN boomers, with existing Ohio-class units to be replaced in the 2030s by the new Columbia class.
Combat Logistics Force: Grows from 29 to 32 ships, needed to support deployed warships.
Expeditionary Fast Transport/High Speed Transport: The requirement remains 10 ships, although 12 are under contract with Austal USA.
Expeditionary Support Base: Doubles in size from three to six ships. ESBs, a new type of ship, support counter-terrorism and special operations efforts.
Command and Support ships: Grows from 21 to 23 ships to reflect the need for two more surveillance ships.
Below is the full text of the executive summary released by the Navy Dec. 16.
2016 Navy Force Structure Assessment (FSA)
15 DECEMBER 2016
Navy’s Force Structure Assessment (FSA) was developed in an effort to determine the right balance of existing forces, the ships we currently have under construction and the future procurement plans needed to address the ever-evolving and increasingly complex threats the Navy is required to counter in the global maritime commons. This FSA assumes that the future plans for our Navy, in ship types and numbers of ships, continues to replace the ships we have today with ships of similar capability and in similar numbers as we transition to the future Navy – it does not address potential options that may come out of the ongoing review of the potential Future Fleet Architecture studies that were directed by Congress and completed in October 2016. As we evaluate the options presented in these studies and move to include them in our plans for tomorrow’s Navy, this FSA will need to be updated to reflect those changes that are determined to be most beneficial to meeting the Navy’s missions of the future.
The number and mix of ships in the objective force, identified by this FSA, reflects an in-depth assessment of the Navy’s force structure requirements – it also includes a level of operational risk that we are willing to assume based on the resource limitations under which the Navy must operate. While the force levels articulated in this FSA are adjudged to be successful in the scenarios defined for Navy combat, that success will likely also include additional loss of forces, and longer timelines to achieve desired objectives, in each of the combat scenarios against which we plan to use these forces. It should not be assumed that this force level is the "desired" force size the Navy would pursue if resources were not a constraint – rather, this is the level that balances an acceptable level of warfighting risk to our equipment and personnel against available resources and achieves a force size that can reasonably achieve success.
SUMMARY OF FINDINGS:
Since the last full FSA was conducted in 2012, and updated in 2014, the global security environment changed significantly, with our potential adversaries developing capabilities that challenge our traditional military strengths and erode our technological advantage. Within this new security environment, defense planning guidance directed that the capacity and capability of the Joint Force must be sufficient to defeat one adversary while denying the objectives of a second adversary.
In January, the 2016 FSA started with a request to the Combatant Commanders (CCDRs) to provide their unconstrained desire for Navy forces in their respective theaters. In order to fully resource these platform-specific demands, with very little risk in any theater while still supporting enduring missions and ongoing operations, the Navy would be required to double its current annual budget, which is essentially unrealistic in both current and expected future fiscal environments.
After identifying instances where forces were being requested for redundant missions or where enduring force levels were not required, while also looking at areas where we could take some risk in mission success or identify a new way to accomplish the mission, we were able to identify an FSA force level better aligned with resources available.
WARFIGHTING RISK AND THE FORCE STRUCTURE OBJECTIVE:
In order to assess warfighting risk and identify where margins existed that could be reduced, we did an in-depth review and analysis of "what it takes to win", on what timeline, and in which theater, for each major ship class. The goal of this phase of the analysis was to determine the minimum force structure that:
§ complies with defense planning guidance directed combinations of challenges for force sizing and shaping;
§ meets approved Day 0 and warfighting response timelines;
§ delivers future steady state and warfighting requirements, determined by Navy’s analytic process, with an acceptable degree of risk (e.g. – does not jeopardize joint force campaign success).
The following table shows the results of the 2016 FSA – an objective force of 355 ships – and the changes from the 2014 FSA update.
| Type / Class || 2012 || 2016 |
| Aircraft Carriers || 11 || 12 |
| Large Surface Combatants || 88 || 104 |
| Small Surface Combatants || 52 || 52 |
| Amphibious Warfare Ships || 34 || 38 |
| Attack Submarines || 48 || 66 |
| Guided Missile Submarines || 0 || 0 |
| Ballistic Missile Submarines || 12 || 12 |
| Combat Logistics Force || 29 || 32 |
| Expeditionary Fast Transport/High Speed Transport || 10 || 10* |
| Expeditionary Support Base || 3 || 6 |
| Command and Support || 21 || 23 |
| Total || 308 || 355 |
In executing this assessment, we were careful to ensure each of what amounted to 11 separate "ship class level" FSAs did not cause the accumulated risk to the force to pass into a realm where we were uncertain we could still "win". In each "ship class level" effort, the most stressing requirements from each set of integrated scenarios were used to identify the minimum force structure required to comply with strategic guidance.
A minimum of 12 Aircraft Carriers are required to meet the increased warfighting response requirements of the Defense Planning Guidance Defeat/Deny force sizing direction.
104 Large Surface Combatants deliver increased air defense and expeditionary BMD capacity and provide escorts for the additional Aircraft Carrier.
52 Small Surface Combatants are required to meet Defeat/Deny challenges and support ongoing Counter Terrorism, Counter Illicit Trafficking, and Theater Security Cooperation/Building Partnerships efforts.
66 Attack Submarines provide the global presence required to support national tasking and prompt warfighting response
The additional logistic ships support the additional Aircraft Carriers and Large Surface Combatants.
Six Expeditionary Support Bases provide persistent and flexible capabilities for Counter Terrorism and Counter Illicit Trafficking efforts.
The Command and Support inventory is mostly driven by platform specific studies of presence and warfighting requirements for the unique missions of these ships. The rise to 23 represents two additional surveillance ships.
*EPF-11/12 currently under contract.