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Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress

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Publication Date: April 2009

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL32665

Topic: Military and defense (Military equipment and weapons)


The Navy in February 2006 proposed to maintain in coming years a fleet of 313 ships, including, among other things, 11 aircraft carriers, 48 attack submarines (SSNs), 88 cruisers and destroyers, 55 Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs), 31 amphibious ships, and a Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future), or MPF(F), squadron with 12 new-construction amphibious and sealift-type ships. In conjunction with this proposed 313-ship fleet, the Navy submitted a 5-year (FY2007-FY2011) shipbuilding plan as part of the FY2007-FY2011 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP), and a 30year (FY2007-FY2036) shipbuilding plan that the Navy is required by law to submit each year.

Whether the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) supports the Navy's proposed 313-ship fleet is uncertain. The final report on the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review supported a fleet of more than 281 ships, including 11 carriers, but did not explicitly endorse a 313-ship fleet including the numbers that the Navy has outlined for other types of ships.

Within the 313-ship proposal, some observers have questioned the Navy's planned figures for aircraft carriers, SSNs, and amphibious ships, and have suggested that a fleet with 12 carriers, 55 or more SSNs, and 35 or 36 amphibious ships would be more appropriate.

The Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan does not include enough ships to fully support all elements of the 313-ship fleet consistently over the long run. Deficiencies in the shipbuilding plan relative to the 313-ship fleet include 1 amphibious ship, 4 cruise missile submarines (SSGNs), 12 SSNs, and (when calculated on a 35-year basis) 26 cruisers and destroyers.

The Navy says that for its shipbuilding plans to be affordable and executable, the Navy needs to control certain non-shipbuilding expenditures and build ships within estimated costs. Some observers have questioned the Navy's ability to do these things. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that shipbuilding costs will be about 34% higher than the Navy estimates. If the Navy cannot meet its goals regarding non-shipbuilding expenditures and shipbuilding costs, the Navy's shipbuilding plans may become difficult or impossible to execute, particularly after FY2011. The Navy's shipbuilding plans raise potential issues regarding the shipbuilding industrial base, particularly in the areas of the submarine design and engineering base, and the surface combatant construction base.

The House Appropriations Committee, in its report (H.Rept. 109-504 of June 16, 2006) on H.R. 5631, expressed concern for the Navy's ability to execute its shipbuilding plans, particularly in light of recent cost growth in Navy shipbuilding programs. This report will be updated when events warrant.