The Congressional Research Service’s excellent and prolific naval analyst Ron O’Rourke is out with an updated report today looking at the Navy’s shipbuilding plan; the report also looks at a number of the proposed alternatives to the Navy’s plan including the Independent Panel Assessment of the 2010 QDR (which I derided).
As O’Rourke points out, the Navy’s FY2011 budget keeps the goal of a 313 ship battle fleet. Yet, the service’s 30 year shipbuilding plan includes 276 ships and does not reach the 313 ship goal. Additionally, the Navy estimates its 30 year plan requires an average of $16 billion per year; a recent Congressional Budget Office analysis of the plan puts the figure closer to $19 billion. CBO says:
“If the Navy receives the same amount of funding for ship construction in the next 30 years as it has over the past three decades—an average of about $15 billion a year in 2010 dollars—it will not be able to afford all of the purchases in the 2011 plan.”
Other question marks stand out. O’Rourke asks whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorses the 313 ship plan as the 2010 QDR doesn’t establish specific force level requirements. Also, the Navy says it is undertaking a force structure assessment that might produce a new battle fleet goal. Additionally, O’Rourke asks whether the demand signal for ballistic missile defense ships in Europe and elsewhere is adequately met by a force of 88 Aegis equipped cruisers and destroyers.
O’Rourke notes that in its recommendations for a larger, 346 ship Navy, the QDR Independent Panel Assessment cited the 1993 Bottom-Up Review (see Table C-1). While O’Rourke doesn’t comment specifically on the panel’s recommendations, he adds Gates’ comments on the panel’s report from an August 11 letter to Congress:
“I completely agree with the Panel that a strong navy is essential; however, I disagree with the Panel’s recommendation that DoD should establish the 1993 Bottom Up Review’s (BUR’s) fleet of 346 ships as the objective target. That number was a simple projection of the then-planned size of [the] Navy in FY 1999, not a reflection of 21st century, steady-state requirements.
The fleet described in the 2010 QDR report, with its overall target of 313 to 323 ships, has roughly the same number of aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered attack submarines, surface combatants, mine warfare vessels, and amphibious ships as the larger BUR fleet. The main difference between the two fleets is in the numbers of combat logistics, mobile logistics, and support ships. Although it is true that the 2010 fleet includes fewer of these ships, they are all now more efficiently manned and operated by the Military Sealift Command and meet all of DoD’s requirements….”
— Greg Grant