WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy will conduct a sweeping force structure assessment next year and an interim assessment, a senior Navy official said Wednesday.

Vice Adm. William Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (N9), said at the second annual Defense News Conference that the process would be done “some time” in 2019, with the interim assessment done “a little but quicker — a review of any indications of changes.”

The force structure assessment, or FSA, will involve gauging the perception of threat by regional combatant commanders and running that through war games for “a Navy answer,” likely for analysis by independent study groups, Merz said.

While the Navy’s last FSA called for a major fleet-size boost to 355 ships — a number since embraced by President Donald Trump and enshrined in defense authorization law — this one is expected to better detail the types of ships needed.

The chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., has also championed a 355-ship fleet, but said the Navy cannot wait until its target date of 2050.

“This next one needs to give us some fidelity on what Navy architecture should be,” Wittman said, adding the last assessment took a “shotgun approach.”

Wittman is particularly interested in what the FSA says about Navy-Marine Corps integration, future platforms and the integration of unmanned systems into the fleet.

“We have gone in a lot of different directions on unmanned systems,” Wittman said. “Now’s the time to say exactly what we expect in those systems, how those systems will integrate in the surface ships of the future, the submarines of the future.”

That specificity will help Congress best allocate funding, and sooner is better than later, Wittman said.

“We ought to be having those conversations now,” he said.

Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.

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