Posted: December 16, 2016 2:57 PM

Navy Study Advocates Growing Battle Force to 355 Ships

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy has determined that it needs to increase the size of its battle force to 355 ships to meet the future defense requirements of the United States. The increase over the previously determined required force level of 308 ships, if achieved, would add 47 more ships of several types to the battle force.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced the results of the nearly year-long 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA) Dec. 16, according to a release from his office.

The 2016 FSA recommends a force level of 12 aircraft carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 52 small surface combatants, 38 amphibious ships, 12 ballistic-missile submarines and 66 attack submarines, plus 23 other support ships.

“The assessment will be an important input to the Navy's Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) 30-year Shipbuilding Plan,” the release said. “The current proposed Navy budget is seen as a bridge to this larger Navy, with shipbuilding on an upward glide slope towards 308 ships.”

The study, which was not constrained by the funding restrictions of the existing Budget Control Act, takes into account the current strategic environment, which has changed considerably in recent years.

“To continue to protect America and defend our strategic interests around the world, all while continuing the counterterrorism fight and appropriately competing with a growing China and resurgent Russia, our Navy must continue to grow,” Mabus said in the release. “All of the analysis done to date, inside and outside of the Navy, recognizes, as we have for nearly the last eight years, the need for a larger Fleet. That is why, working with Congress and our partners in industry, we have successfully reversed the decline in shipbuilding that occurred from 2001-2009, putting 86 ships under contract over the last seven years. Maintaining this momentum, and the cost-saving business practices we have established, will be critical to ensuring the Navy is able to achieve the FSA-recommended fleet size and is positioned to maintain the global presence the Navy and Marine Corps uniquely provide our nation.”

The assessment’s executive summary said, “It should not be assumed that this force level is the “desired” force size the Navy would pursue if resources were not a constraint – rather, this is the level that balances an acceptable level of warfighting risk to our equipment and personnel against available resources and achieves a force size that can reasonably achieve success.”

The 2016 FSA recommends a return to an aircraft carrier fleet of 12 ships. The current level of 10 carriers is set to increase to 11 when Gerald R. Ford is commissioned, likely next year.

The most dramatic increase would occur with attack submarines (SSNs), up by 18 to 66 boats. The SSN force is strained by the demands of combatant commanders and is too small to meet those demands. The requirement for ballistic-missile submarines would remain at 12 boats.

The large surface combatants — cruisers and destroyers — would increase by 16 ships over the 88-ship level set in the 2014 FSA. This growth would be needed to provide escorts for the additional carrier and to meet ballistic-missile defense requirements. The Navy has begun its concept studies for a future large surface combatant.

The Navy kept the level of needed small surface combatants at 52 ships, a level it has advocated even after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ordered the planned littoral ship/frigate procurement limited to 40 ships.

The long-standing need for more amphibious warfare ships voiced by the Marine Corps is addressed in the increase of the requirement to 38 ships from the previous 34 ships, a level that was in itself a compromise made with regard to funding realities. The increase would enable the Corps to maintain increased forward presence of its afloat Marine expeditionary units.

The number of expeditionary support base ships would double from three to six. The number of expeditionary fast transports and high-speed transports needed is 10, although 12 are built or on order.

The combat logistics force would increase by three over the 2014 FSA to 32, to account for the logistics needs of the growing battle force’s aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.

The 23 additional support ships are unspecified by type, except for two ocean surveillance ships, indicative of concern about the increasing Russian and Chinese submarine activity.

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