Wednesday, April 24, 2013

30 Year Shipbuilding Plan

The Navy has released data tables from its FY2014 long range, 30 year, building plan.  There are plenty of interesting bits of information contained therein. 

The construction/retirement numbers by class are revealing.  The “+” numbers are new construction and the “-“ numbers are retirements.  The number following that is the net change over the period, either positive or negative.

CVN  +6 / -6 ; 0

DDG/CG  +70 / -61 ; +9

LXX (amphibs)  +19 / -20 ; -1

LCS/FFG  +66 / -50 ; +16

SSN  +47 / -52 ; -5

SSBN  +12 / -14 ; -2

SSGN  +0 / -4 ; -4

We see that major surface combatants, DDGs and CGs will increase by 9.  All other classes of ship except the LCS/FFG will either remain unchanged or decrease.  Discounting the LCS which has no credible combat capability, the net change across all ship classes is -3.  The Navy is banking heavily on the LCS to maintain ship numbers.  What that means is that Ticos and Burkes will be retired and replaced, numerically, by the LCS.  That seems like a reasonable swap, doesn’t it?

Another noteworthy item is that over the next two years, FY14 and FY15, the Navy proposes to build 16 ships of all types and retire 31 for a net change of -15.  Yikes!  That will drop the fleet size from the current level of about 285 to 270.

The Navy is saying that over the next couple years when we have a pretty solid idea of what budgets and costs will be, the fleet will shrink significantly due to lack of construction funds.  During the out years in the 2020’s and beyond, when we have no idea what budgets and costs will be, the Navy rosily forecasts growth from 270 ships back to around 306.  Hey, Navy, as long as you’re making stuff up, why not forecast growth to 400 or 500 ships?  You won’t have to actually do it and it will sound way more impressive for public relations and political purposes.

We’ve already demonstrated that the Navy’s 30 year shipbuilding plan isn’t even remotely achievable, financially.  Indeed, the next two years, which most accurately reflect the fiscal realities, clearly show that the fleet will shrink significantly.  The Navy is, at best, engaging in wishful thinking with the 30 year plan and, more realistically, is engaging in misinformation, misdirection, and fraud.


  1. You didn't mention one line item:

    FFG +0 / -19

    1. Those numbers are included under the small combatant category which I labelled as LCS. I've modified the label to "LCS/FFG" to be more accurate. Thanks!

  2. Correction...the net change in total ships is not a swap of DDG/CG for LCS, but rather a swap of SSN/SSBN for LCS. The number of DDG/CG hulls is actually increasing while it is the subsurface hulls decreasing.

    - TV

    1. TV, if you believe the Navy's plan, that's somewhat correct. However, beyond about two years the plan is pure fiction. At a few to several billion dollars each, the Navy is not going to be able to build the DDGs that its plan calls for. We do know, though, that we will be retiring many Burkes and all the Ticos in the moderately near future. There is realistic pressure to build more subs. Congress has little enthusiasm for for DDGs that represent only minor improvements over the current ones.

  3. I'm not sure about that but I seem to remember that in the previous plan, the predicted amphibious ships inventory had to be at the same level of this FY’14 Shipbuilding plan (31 ships) but with a different composition: 11 LPD, 10 LSD(X) and 10 LHD/A vs 11 LPD, 11 LX(R) (a change of definition for the replacement of LSD/41-49?) and 9 LHD/A.
    Is there anybody who can explain me this (strange) shift, with the removal of one "big deck" and the addition of one LSD?

    1. The only answer I can give you is that the Navy doesn't know what it wants to do about amphibious capability. On the one hand, the Navy says that they can't approach defended shores and, therefore, need aviation based assault. On the other hand, the Navy continues to build amphibs with well decks and is funding a new generation of LCACs which can only do beach assaults. The Navy is confused about what it wants.

      Compounding this confusion is the fact that every new amphibious ship takes money away from the ships the Navy leadership really wants to build: carriers, LCSs, and next generation DDGs/CGs. The Navy begrudges every dollar spent on amphibious warfare which is why they've pursured fire support and why the Marines lift requirement isn't even close to being met.

      Did that help any?

  4. Nice article. There is one thing I would like to know. How long does it generally take to build a navy ship? I had this question since long.

    Thanks in advance,
    Henry Jordan
    Hydraulic Sealing Products

  5. Just found the website and enjoy it. Here is where I would like to see USN go.
    1. Revive Elmo Zumwalt’s high/low procurement mix. Build some high end Burkes, but also some low end frigates to get numbers; maybe half dozen 100,000T Fords with 90 aircraft and a half dozen 70-80,000T CVN with 70 aircraft (which that size used to carry); some Tango Bravos and AIP subs; some cheaper amphibs like Juan Carlos or Dokdo or Albion, and some real LSTs; a real mine force rather than somebody else’s expensive and poorly executed tack-on, and a force of corvettes and OPVs for low threat missions.
    2. Work with NATO and other allies. They have some good designs, and even upgrading weapons and survivability to US standards, we could get capable ships for less money based on a lot of them--Juan Carlos, F-100, FREMM, Horizon, MEKO series. Amortizing R&D costs over a wider base frees money for allies to finish out what they're building "with but not for" now.
    3. Convert people and capability to reserves. The way to have top dollar military forces without paying top dollar prices is to keep a bunch of them intentionally at lower readiness. This might help curb the temptation to send the Marines into every little dispute that's none of our business. I'm envisioning maybe 100-150 reserve ships (all at the low end of the high low mix)--AIP subs, frigates/corvettes/ocean patrol ships, mine sweepers/hunters.
    4. Cut operating costs for auxiliaries by moving all of them to MSC. The Royal Navy does well with the RFA concept. We have converted some, do the rest.
    5. Cut off the Zumwalts and LCS to keels laid. Give the yards contracts to build the cheaper replacements. Blohm & Voss have a MEKO CSL that looks like at least 90% of the capability of the LCS for half the price. Let the LCS yards build a few of those, and maybe let the Zumwalt yard build some arsenal ships.
    6. Stretch out lives. Target 50 years for carriers, 40 for everything else except small stuff, with planned midlife FRAM around 20 years.
    7. Shoot for 20% new, 80% proved components for all new construction. Upgrade to newer in FRAM.

    1. Resulting fleet:
      Carriers ($2.3B/yr)
      6 CVN (100K T), $13B each, $1.6B/yr.
      6 CVN (70-80K T), maybe combined CTOL/STOBAR/STOVL like Ulyanovsk for better operability with allies, $6B each, $0.7B/yr.
      Submarines ($5.5B/yr)
      12 SSBN, $7B each, $2.1B/yr.
      8 SSGN, based on SSBN$4.2B each, $0.8B/yr.
      20 SSN, Virginia or better,$2.7B each, $1.4B/yr.
      20 SSN, Tango Bravo, $1.6B each, $0,8B/yr.
      15 SSK, AIP, $0.9B each, $0.4B/yr. (NRF)
      Blue water ($4.4B/yr)
      8 BC (35K T) something like old Kievs, big guns to support the Marines, big VLS, flight deck to operate STOVL, helos, and UAVs, $5B each, $1B/yr.
      12 C (14K T) Burke IIIs on bigger hull for better survivability, more reloads, and bigger guns, AAW/ASW/SUW plus some power projection, $2.4B each, $0.7B/yr.
      20 D, Burke/Type 45, $1.9B each, $0.9B/yr.
      8 D, DDH's like Japanese, $1.4B each, $0.3B/yr.
      20 E (4-6K T), baby Burkes, like Horizon/Spanish F-100/Type 26/27/FREMM/MEKO 600, $1.0B each, $0.5B/yr
      28 F (2-4K T), MEKO A-200/LaFatette/Perry/Knox, most ASW, some AAW, some SUW, $0.5B each, $0.3B/yr.
      6 F, LCS, $0.7B each, legacy.
      6 F, MEKO CSL, $0.5B each, $0.1B/yr.
      15 K (1.8K T), GE Braunschweig/MEKO A-100/140, $0.4B each, $0.1B/yr, NRF.
      9 C/D, BMD, $2.2B each, $0.5B/yr.
      Amphibs ($1.8B/yr)
      10 LHA/D, 10 LPD, 10 LSD, 10 LPH, 10 LST.
      Green Water ($0.9B/yr)
      3 Zumwalts (legacy), 8 arsenal ships, 45 OPV (NRF), 15 JHSV, 4 Arctic corvette, 15 MCM (NRF), 15 MSO (NRF),30 MSC/MHC (NRF)
      Auxiliaries ($1.0B/yr), all MSC
      40 fleet replenishment ships, 60 prepositioning ships, 6 tenders, 20 miscellaneous.
      Total 530 ships, 269 active, 135 NRF, 126 MSC, construction costs $15.9B/year, with operations savings and some construction cuts possible.
      Employment would include:
      12 CVBG, each with 1 CVN, 1 SSN, 1 C, 1 Burke, 1 E, 1 F.
      8 surface/ASW BG, each with 1 BC, 1 SSN, 1 Burke, 1 DDH, 1 E, 2 F.
      10 amphib groups, each with 1 LHA/D, 1 LPD, 1 LSD, 1 LPH, and 1 LST, 4000 troops and equipment.
      NRF ships added to each as needed.

    2. Chip, welcome aboard! You bring up a couple of good points. Why do you think the Navy is reluctant to buy foreign designed/built ships? I suspect that you can probably answer your own question if you think about it a bit. If not, I'll gladly offer my view on it for your consideration.

      The reserve approach is interesting but has some drawbacks. The US fleet is unable to meet its requested missions from the Combatant Commanders at its current fleet size. Removing a hundred plus ships would be an abdication of global presence responsibilities. Of course, one can legitimately question whether all those requests are worthwhile! Still, the USN is unique among other countries in having taken on responsibility for the entire world's maritime safety and security. With no offense intended towards any other country, no other country has taken that responsibility and so no other country has the need for the sheer number of ships the US does.

      Also, the problem with reserve forces is training (for the personnel) and maintenance (for the ships). Maintaining a ship in reserve but at full readiness is expensive - not as expensive as operating but still quite expensive. If the ships are not maintained at full readiness then they're of no use in an emergency. Consider one small aspect, combat system software. Software is constantly being upgraded throughout the fleet and is, indeed, one of the more difficult items to keep current. Every new software version requires extensive time to install and then validate for all the weapons and sensors on the ship followed by extensive training for the crew on the new version. If the reserve ships were not kept updated, they wouldn't be ready and if they were kept updated the level of activity and cost would suggest that they might as well be operational. You see the dilema? Think it through some more and tell me if you still think a large reserve force is viable and, if so, how the ships and crews would be kept ready without costing too much. Also, remember that certain skills, such as ASW, require constant practice. How do we keep the reserve crews proficient? A two week cruise once a year won't do it.

      I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

  6. Several good questions.

    Regarding the technical proficiency question, I had command of a reserve unit involved in a highly technical field. Being in the Houston area, our reservist techies worked either in the oilpatch or for NASA. We were definitely more tech savvy than the active duty guys. We spent our two weeks solving problems for the actives. I know that's an isolated anecdotal case, but I think it suggests that the gap may be significantly less wide in many areas than some people might think.

    One other thing, it's not just two weeks, it's also one weekend a month. If you have a mine squadron, an SSK, and 4 small surface combatants in one port (and that would be the plan, 15 ports set up that way), you could get in a lot of training in a weekend. And you'd have two reserve crews, so that's 48 steaming days a year on drill weekends. Add in 2x2 weeks and you're just not that far removed from what some active duty ships get.

    I would think there would be a way to address the software issue by batching upgrades. I don't think it's the end of the world if not everybody has the same cutting edge software. If the enemy figures out how to jam the latest version, might be helpful to have some units around with different systems. I just got back from a trip to Antarctica, stopped at Falklands en route. Interesting that at the time the RN's state of the art anti-air ships were the Type 42s with Sea Dart. But Sea Dart didn't work very well in that environment, and they lost a couple of 42s. So they paired them with ASW/GP Type 22s, whose shorter range Sea Wolf was more effective there. Sometimes latest and greatest is not best. I would think a reasonable target for ongoing readiness for NRF units would be deployable in 30-60 days. That's much closer than the RN was with a lot of units that went to the Falklands and did just fine, starting with the carriers and LPDs.

    I agree that there would be a lot of manning and deployment issues to be resolved in operating in this posture, and I don't have solutions. But I think you've got a lot more options if you have 270+135 hulls than if you have 250, and looks like we're heading toward the south side of 250 on the current track. You could forward base some units and rotate crews, you could probably find ways to cover even some deployment days with the NRF ships, you could use NRF ships as platforms to whip crews into shape for larger units while in or coming out of yards, I think there a lot of options. There have been some interesting Naval Institute Proceedings articles kicking a few ideas around.

    And when the alternative is <250, then the problems seem likely to be more manageable with 270+135. And I would definitely question the viability of some of those commitments.

    We could probably learn a lot from Israel/Switzerland/Sweden about how to solve some of the problems. None of them have the significant deployment issue that exists in USN, so their models might be more applicable to Army and Air Force(which I'd also include in the same concept).

    As for the failure to adopt foreign designs and concepts, I think it's probably the shipyards (and aircraft manufacturers and weapons manufacturers) who push a lot of it, through their favored congressmen. They'd still make lots of money building license-built foreign designs. And I think it would be extremely helpful for us to be working with designs that were developed in extreme cost control environments.

    1. Chip, there's nothing I like more than a well reasoned discussion, whether I agree with the premise or not, and this is excellent. Well written! As it happens, I either agree with your thoughts or they're reasonable enough to make me believe they're worth further consideration.

      This post is far enough back in the archives that many readers probably aren't seeing this which is a shame because it's an excellent topic and highly relevant. Do you have any interest in authoring a guest post? If so, I have more questions relevant to your proposal. For example, we have 280 or so ships right now and a 15% manning shortage. If we went to 270+135, how would we provide crews for the extra ships?

      Let me know if you have any interest!

    2. Thank you for the invitation and yes I would be interested. I am working on a research project in this area and would like to push the research a bit further along, and this could be a vehicle to expedite that. Need a month or two more time first.

      Manning is always going to be a problem. I do not like the navy's solution of bigger and more complex ships manned by fewer and fewer people. That was actually another lesson from the Falklands--if you save money up front on manning and survivability, you end up responding to a single bomb hit by abandoning ship.

      To some extent I'm going with smaller ships. My 12 carriers would require fewer sailors than today's 11, or even 10. But in the end my approach would clearly require more sailors--both active duty and reserve--so some seriously enhanced recruiting and retention efforts would be required. Part of that might be solved with money, part almost certainly would not. I think some accommodations to lifestyle are going to be needed. Maybe deployments of ships could be made longer, avoiding so much time in transit, with dual crews like the boomers while deployed. Say blue crew takes west coast ship to Westpac, gold crew comes out and operates 3 months in Westpac, blue crew operates 3 months in Westpac, gold crew operates 3 months including transit to Indian Ocean, blue crew operates 3 months in IO, gold crew operates 3 months in IO, blue crew operates 3 months including transit to Med, gold crew operates 3 months in Med, blue crew operates 3 months in Med, gold crew operates 3 months and brings ship home. That's a 30 month round the world deployment with nobody gone more than 3 months at a time. That requires more bodies but they might be easier to get. And off rotation times could be used for serious and intensive training, including team training in simulators so you end up with a more professional force.

      I think you've actually nailed the larger problem several times on here--the lack of well defined missions and strategy. I think if those are adequately defined, the answers to a lot of other questions become easier.

    3. Chip, contact me via email at


      Substitute the appropriate symbols for underscore, at, dot. I do it this way to avoid problems with spambots. Let me know if you have a problem with the email address and we'll try again.


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