Magazine article National Defense

Expanding the Fleet

Magazine article National Defense

Expanding the Fleet

Article excerpt

The Navy's new shipbuilding plan is under fire from those who say it is not aggressive enough in pursuing the goal of a 355-ship fleet.

The long-term roadmap for fiscal years 2019 to 2048 was released in February. It is the first 30-year shipbuilding plan put forth since the Navy and Congress determined that the service needs 355 ships to achieve its strategic aims.

Tom Callender, senior fellow for defense programs, naval warfare and advanced technologies at the Heritage Foundation - a Washington, D.C. think tank - said he was "underwhelmed" by the new force structure blueprint.

"It was much less aggressive than what I had anticipated," said Callender, who previously served as director for capabilities in the capabilities and concepts directorate of the office of the deputy undersecretary of the Navy for policy.

The service plans a major push to beef up the fleet over the next five years, increasing the number of battle force ships from about 280 to 326 by 2023. It added 11 to the future years defense program, or FYDP, relative to the previous plan and identified additional vessels for service-life extensions, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. Brian "Lex" Luther noted during a briefing with reporters when the 2019 budget request was released.

However, Callender said that the growth would then stall and the fleet size would actually drop to 313 vessels by 2028 before it starts increasing again.

"If you look at what happens with the force structure layout, that's a false peak because right after that we start to decommission a lot of ships," he said.

The service is taking "a conservative approach" to shipbuilding, but it needs to be more insistent about increasing its capacity, he added.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee, said the Navy's proposal is insufficient.

"We like the first few years of the 30-year shipbuilding plan," he said at the McAleese annual defense conference in Washington, D.C. "Then suddenly there's a dip. We don't like that dip, and so we're visiting with the leadership of the administration about that, with the uniformed and civilian leadership from the Pentagon" to address those concerns. "If we can get to 326 [by 2023] we need to keep that momentum," he added.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the Navy would not reach the national objective of 355 ships until the 2050s under its socalled "steady, sustainable growth" path. It would also not meet the requirement of having 12 aircraft carriers until 2060 or later.

In 2048, at the end of the 30-year planning period, the service would have only 335 battle force vessels in its inventory. Wicker said that scenario is unacceptable. "The 'steady as she goes' approach does not match the urgency ... that we're hearing from members of the Pentagon," he added.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., took a different tack, saying the idea of achieving a 355-ship Navy is "pure fantasy" because it doesn't match up with fiscal realities.

Bryan Clark, senior fellow and naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments - a Washington, D.C. think tank - defended the new shipbuilding blueprint.

It "did a pretty good job capturing the costs that would be incurred and building a plan that was pretty achievable given the amount of money that the Navy may get a hold of," he said.

It also appears to be a bureaucratic cry for help, he suggested.

"It looks like a plan that the Navy is using to make a case to Congress that they need more shipbuilding funds because it doesn't get to 355, so it doesn't reach their requirement," said Clark, who previously served as special assistant to the chief of naval operations.

The outline also pointed out ways to achieve more aggressive growth, he noted. The service said it could potentially reach 355 ships in the 2030s if significantly more resources were provided and the industrial base responded accordingly. …

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