Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Navy Budget History

Here is the inflation adjusted budget for the U.S. Navy presented in FY17 dollars and the corresponding fleet size (number of ships) for the indicated year.

1980  $149B (1)  530 ships
1985  $231B (1)  571 ships
1990  $194B (1)  570 ships
1995  $126B (1)  392 ships
2000  $130B (1)  318 ships
2005  $159B (1)  282 ships
2010  $201B (1)  288 ships
2015  $156B (2)  271 ships
2017  $165B (3)  275 ships

Note:  The 2015 and 2017 fleet size numbers are misleading because they count the non-combat-capable LCS as warships but the trend of shrinking ship numbers relative to the budget is still quite evident.

We see from this that the budget, with some bouncing around, has remained fairly constant and that the 2010/15/17 budgets are in the upper half of historic values and even compare well with the 1980-90 buildup to the 600 ship fleet.  

In fact, the ratio of budget to ships has increased markedly!  We have the same amount of money and far fewer ships yet the Navy, and many observers, claim that the Navy is somehow budget constrained and can’t afford more crews, more training, more ships, more maintenance, more whatever.  This is patently untrue.  Relative to the number of ships we have, we have more money than ever.  We’re just spending it unwisely.

We’re just spending it unwisely.


(1)Naval History and Heritage Command,


  1. Yes but what about munitions cost?
    Now they are more complex and expensive missiles of all kind in USN inventory. Also in 1980 you don't have many Aegis ships in inventory.

    Generally with modern weapons systems you can do a lot more with less units.

    For example you cannot compare a F-18E with a F-18A

    1. That's not generally true. On an inflation adjusted basis, most weapons have remained relatively constant in cost. For example, the $20M cost of an F-14 in the early 1970's is around $120M in FY17 dollars - the same cost as an F-35.

      Another example is the Los Angeles class sub which cost around $800M in 1980. That's $2.5B today which is the exact cost of a Virginia class sub.

      The other aspect you're overlooking is that we used to buy much greater quantities of ships, aircraft, and weapons. So, even if there were an inflation-adjusted price increase over time, it's cancelled out by the significantly lower quantities today. For example, not only have the number of carriers decreased substantially from, say, the 1970's but the air wing size is not around half of what it was then.

    2. Not sure if this would help Storm Shadow question or change anything but maybe we should compare the procurement budgets instead of the total USN budget.

      How much were we spending on procurement, parts/maintenance/ personal for the FYs? I imagine it's somewhat consistent....but how and where were we getting more bang for our buck?

    3. Found a really good document from the Department of the Navy,

      Page 36, shows the historical trend for a number of budget lines back to 1998. O&M, Procurement, Personnel, R&D plus more... and Procurement is broken down into even smaller sections; armaments, shipbuilding, aircraft, small arms.

      As to the shipbuilding budget, it has almost doubled in the past twenty years.

      Personnel has mostly been consistent at $30 billion, O&M is always cut first, down nearly 20%, $10 billion, in the past three years alone. From a high of $49 billion 2014/5 to $39 billion for 2017.


  2. So a new stealth destroyer gets built but the main armament is too expensive to use? The LCS mess, how much did that cost? Is that class ever going to fulfill it's mission? The perfumed princes in the Pentagon aren't the ones at the tip of the spear when the balloon goes up.

  3. I know it is common practice for you to take pot shots at the LCS, but you might want to stick closer to the reality. The number listed in the ship column represents naval vessels of all types, not just warships, and LCS are dependently naval vessel, even if you don't what to call them warships.

    1. "I know it is common practice for you to take pot shots at the LCS"

      No, I describe documented problems.

    2. "The number listed in the ship column represents naval vessels of all types, not just warships, and LCS are dependently naval vessel, even if you don't what to call them warships."

      No, the ship number column represents direct combat ships (destroyers, carriers, subs, amphibs, etc.) but not support ships (T-xxx, tenders, logistics ships, patrol ships, etc.). The LCS, lacking any significant combat capability is included in the official number inappropriately, hence my note.

      Check out the fleet size posts in the archives and follow the link to the official Navy fleet size website and you can see what is and is not included in the official count.

  4. The impossible dream of a 355 ship navy, CSIS Press Briefing: FY 2018 Defense Budget Report - December 2017.

    "The peak defense budget year was in the cold war era of 1987 and by 1997, the number of ships declined by 40 percent and the budget fell by about 35 percent, but between 1997 and 2015 the fleet shrank by a further 20%, but the base budget grew by 49%, the cost of operating and maintaining a shrinking fleet skyrocketed."

    Navy still building the $2B Burkes whose basic design dates back to the 80s with their high crew numbers and with gas guzzling GT's and the LCS which GAO reported was nearly as expensive to maintain as the Burkes. If the trends continue with ballooning operations and maintenance support costs,
    reflected in CNOs numbers, the fleet size will fall without increased budget.

    Few thoughts on the SCN budget

    An option Navy has turned its back on as the only path that might achieve 355 ships within current budget is to move to high-low mix with nuclear/conventional carriers and submarines. Cost of conventional ship approx. one third of nuclear option eg instead of building two SSN774 p.a., just one SSN and three SSSKs, total over ten years, current plan 20 SSNs v alternative 10 SSNs and 30 SSKs, so at end of ten year period you have doubled size of fleet for the same budget or less, as building conventional submarines opens the possibility of other shipyards able to build and break the stranglehold of EB & NNS nuclear duopoly (FY19-FY23 five year budget for ten SSN774 totals $33B). The question is are 30 SSKs tactically/strategically more effective than 10 SSNs, think strong case can be made as Navy will still be operating many SSNs, need CNO to set out the pros and cons:)

    Navy need to move to dedicated single mission ships eg Navy replacing Avenger class mine countermeasure ships with LCS whose cost nearing $1b each including other costs of R&D etc., LCS payload is limited to 105T means that Navy need two LCS 40 knot plus ships to carry the full MCM module/package, so well over $1+B Navy spending to replace an Avenger class ship, its a bad joke. The Navy FFG(X) has specified it as a smaller Burke at $0.8 to $1+B per ship when also planning for 104 Aegis AAW class fleet with AB Flt III being ramped up to three per year build, Navy needs an ASW frigate at half the FFG(X) price and so doubling size of envisaged frigate class from 20 to 40 fleet.

    May be if above policy or similar applied across all ships there would be a chance to increase Navy ship numbers though very unlikely.

    1. "The question is are 30 SSKs tactically/strategically more effective than 10 SSNs, ... need CNO to set out the pros and cons"

      You've posed the key question. Simply adding hulls will get us to a numeric goal but the real goal is combat power. We could add a thousand canoes but that would gain us no combat power. The danger in the hi-lo mix concept is that the pursuit of numbers may obscure the preferred pursuit of combat power.

      As far as pros and cons, you've followed this blog long enough. Why don't you highlight the pros and cons! Take a shot - it's fun!

    2. "a 355 ship navy"

      Have you ever asked yourself why we need a 355 ship Navy as opposed to a 200 or 300 or 400 or any other number? The Navy wants a larger fleet purely to get more budget. They justify 355 from some very shaky "studies" that are based mostly on peacetime presence demands. Our fleet size should be based on the worst case, high end, war requirement (China, obviously). What size and composition of fleet do we need to successfully engage China in an all out war? No one has answered that.

      I don't support a 355 ship fleet because it's not based on war needs.

      What size and composition fleet do you think we need for high end, China war? Answer that before you get focused on 355.

    3. "As far as pros and cons, you've followed this blog long enough. Why don't you highlight the pros and cons! Take a shot - it's fun!"

      A few thoughts

      “Quantity has a quality all its own” quote rings true and variously attributed to many people including Napoleon and Stalin, but have not seen a scholarly paper exploiting/proving the theory, though always think of US and Soviets massive production of 'materiel' in WWII, eg manufacturing tens of thousands more tanks than Germans, even if their tanks were of a better design they were in the end just overwhelmed by numbers.

      SSN production is severely limited to just the two shipyards with nuclear capacity, EB and NNS, to build SSN,SSBN and CVN, plus the limited capacity for maintenance at qualified nuclear naval dockyard as in case of USS Albany, SSN-753, which lasted 48 months instead of a planned 24 months due to higher priority work on SSBN and CVN.

      Making the assumption that several shipyards could be developed to build and maintain SSK without the major complications and cost of nuclear facilities allowing higher build numbers in shorter timescale and with maintenance periods measured in months not years.

      Operationally SSN have the great advantage of speed and endurance, but SSK said to be quieter and smaller so harder to find/target plus three times the numbers to give more geographic spread and opportunities for both defense and attack, so both types be operationally used to exploit their different capabilities.

    4. You make a very good point about the shipyards as they relate to production and maintenance capacity.

      Quantity/quality has been proven with so many examples throughout history that history itself is the "scholarly paper"! In fact, I'm hard pressed to come up with an example where the numerically superior force didn't win. Can you think of any?

      Good comment!

    5. ComNavOps, there are lots of historical examples of a numerically inferior force defeating a larger, poorly equipped opponent.
      The issue is that most are pre-industrial era.

      There are a few examples in the industrial era.

      It's relative.
      If one nation in a conflict has a massive technological, industrial and logistical disadvantage and/or a relatively more unstable political and social structure (e.g. Tsarist Russia vs Imperial Germany in WW1), then it's possible for a numerically inferior opponent, with a more advanced military, industrial and political structure to win.

      However, when you look at the majority of post--industrial conflicts between countries with relatively similar levels of technological quality, a similar ability to provide logistics and a reasonably stable social and political structure to sustain large scale conflict - then it almost invariably is the case that the country with the overall stronger industrial base, better logistical sustainment, larger economy and greater population will emerge the victor, at least tactically on the battlefield, if not politically.

    6. I wonder would the Falklands war count ?

  5. To CNO's point, we need to have a real, honest to God strategic review to determine what size fleet we need, and what we want in it. I think part of the reason the Navy doesn't want this is it might not like the answers it gets 'A giant silver bullet ship for a gazillion dollars is a bad idea...'

    Also, to this point: "always think of US and Soviets massive production of 'materiel' in WWII, eg manufacturing tens of thousands more tanks than Germans, even if their tanks were of a better design they were in the end just overwhelmed by numbers."

    I don't think there is a question that the Panther and the Tiger were more lethal than the Sherman/T34. But they lacked in one thing:

    A) The Russians made a crap ton of the T-34 and, while it's build quality sucked they also made a crap ton of parts to keep it in the field.

    B) The Sherman is arguably much maligned (I would say it was fine against the PzKW I-IV) But I've read it's real strength was in two factors that 'multiplied' even its great numbers. A) It was reliable. Compared to Panthers, Tigers, and T-34's the thing ran like a Toyota Corolla. B) When it did break down it was easy to fix and get back into the field.

    How does this apply to our Navy?

    We don't have a Sherman ship right now. The closest are probably the 'Burkes but damned they are expensive. And everything new build we are doing is big, expensive, and not very reliable like an M-26.

    The Ford can't launch and recover aircraft.
    The Zumwalt is a 3bbn test bed with bad guns, and the LCS is what it is.

    None of them have proven reliable or lethal. None sound like they can be easily fixed to get back into action. And they are so expensive it's unlikely we'll have many of them.

    Given recent history I'm not hopeful for the FLT III Burkes.

    Worse is we don't even seem to design for 'robustness' anymore. Who's idea was it to link ALL the EMALS launchers so if one goes down it takes everything own with it????


    1. "We don't have a Sherman ship right now."

      An excellent observation. Worse, we've been eliminating machine shops on ships so we can't effect repairs even if we wanted to!

    2. This is a good observation in my opinion.
      The strength of the US in WW2 and WW1 was the scale and strength of her industrial base and her large population relative to the other countries in the conflict.

      If you try and make historical parallels it would China that has the greater industrial base and larger population, not the US.

      It's a simplistic analogy for sure, but it's still food for thought.

      In terms of a "Sherman ship" (a term that I like), I think the only possible choice would be the FFG(X).
      The problem there is it's a ship that only exists in budget forecasts. It could end up being another ship the Navy spends too much on, builds too few of and over-engineers.

  6. Sorry. that was poorly written. The German tanks lacked in reliability and often robust design. The Panther final drives were famous for failing. Even Tiger's had huge drive train issues. And unlike the Russians they didn't have spare transmissions lying around and easily installable.

    Our designs now remind me of german designs. Maybe they are great on paper but their debut could be really ugly, and fixing them could get expensive in both lives and materiel.

  7. Based off previous comments, what would a Sherman Ship be?

    AAW: horizon to impact missile defense only?
    ASuW: enough asm to overwhelm a liked sized combatant?
    ASW: standoff and helo weaponry?
    NGFS: at least modern equivalency (5")?

    Cheep, Fast, Good, pick two. The Sherman tank was reliable and balance cheap with good enough.

    The discussion is what the hell is the conops in peace time and wartime

    1. Part of a Sherman ship would be focus and limited functions, as I think you're suggesting, but a major part would also be simplicity of design and technology.

      For example, rather than choose a combination turbine/diesel engine that can run the propellers in any combination but that require a complex, trouble prone, hard to repair combining gear, all to squeeze out a couple extra percent fuel efficiency, why not just select a single engine that's simple, easy to maintain, and easy to repair? That would be a Sherman ship. The same goes for sensors, weapons, and every other aspect of the ship.

      Look at the trouble the LCS has had with its lube oil and combining gear mechanism. No one seems to know how to operate, maintain, or repair it and almost every LCS that has put to sea has had an engineering breakdown. Why not build it simpler?

  8. CNO ..

    I think you have already mentioned what a Sherman ship would be. The Battleship. use any sort of proven reliable engine, turbine, boilers, etc. Linked to proven reliable drive shafts, etc.

    If we made enough, and stayed away from the latest and greatest technology, we could build a great many. The same goes for destroyers, frigates, etc.

    Keep It Simple Stupid. Make it relatively easy to maintain, make things sailor proof, and try to keep it nuclear power free. Also, make sure there is adequate training to keep it running, such as machinists who can make most parts on ship, helmsman, etc.

    I love this blog, it has been very informative since I found it. Some of it, I experienced as I worked for the Navy as a civilian for 17 years.


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