By Steve Wilson | Mississippi Watchdog
The Navy’s shipbuilding plans — absent a huge transfusion of money — are about to run aground, with serious consequences for the industry and U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding plan, which covers 2015 until 2044, has the service building 264 vessels for a 306-ship force, what the Navy refers to as “battle force ships.”
A report by the Congressional Budget Office shows construction of new ships alone will cost $500 billion over 30 years, or an average of $16.7 billion per year. Add modifications to ships’ weapons and electronics and the expensive refueling of nuclear-power aircraft carriers and submarines, and it climbs to $18.9 billion per year.
That’s slightly less than the 2014 plan, but it’s 36 percent above the historical average annual funding of $13.9 billion. The Navy will either have to cut the number of ships it builds or get more money from Congress.
Seth Cropsey is a former Defense Department official in the Reagan administration and now director of the Center for American Seapower at the Hudson Institute, a nonprofit think tank. He’s the author of “Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy.”
Cropsey told Mississippi Watchdog the Navy’s shipbuilding issues have serious implications for policymakers and the nation’s industrial base.
“It’s really quite simple,” Cropsey said. “If the jobs start to dry up, then the industrial base will go as well for employment. The longer that interval lasts, where the seapower industrial base is draining, the longer it will take to return it, to bring it back to life. We don’t build ships overnight. It’s extraordinarily difficult to bring it back. If solutions are not found to retain the industrial base and keep it from decreasing like the CBO report says it will, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.”
Any cuts in the number of surface warships and amphibious warfare ships would have serious implications for Pascagoula’s Ingalls Shipbuilding and Austal Shipbuilding in Mobile, Ala. Ingalls builds Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyers, San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ships and America class amphibious assault ships; Austal builds the Independence class Littoral Combat Ship and the Joint High-Speed Vessel, a fast troop and cargo transport.
The reason for all of the shipbuilding is simple: The Navy’s fleet is getting old and is in need of replacements. The Navy’s fleet of Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruisers were first commissioned in the early 1980s, and many are reaching their end. The Navy is trying to replace its fleet of Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates — built in the 1980s during the Reagan administration shipbuilding boom and designed to escort supply and amphibious ships — with new Littoral Combat Ships, which have been dogged with controversy and cost overruns. The final frigates are scheduled to be retired this year.
Tagged by some critics as the “Little Crappy Ship,” the LCS program is a lightly armed ship designed for surface, mine-sweeping and antisubmarine operations in coastal areas with most capabilities provided by “mission modules” that can be swapped in port. The Navy is planning to build 32 of the original design and 20 more of a more heavily armed variant with some electronic improvements, more armor and less space for mission modules.
The 306-ship number is achieved with some creative accounting.
Secretary of the Navy and former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus earlier this year changed the definition of what constitutes a “battle force ship,” adding lightly armed mine countermeasures ships and small patrol ships — known as the Cyclone class and armed with cannon and machine guns.
The change allows the Navy to reach its shipbuilding goal under the new plan in 2019. Under the old system, it would’ve taken until 2022.
Cropsey said, “They could change the way they procure vessels, building ones that emphasize affordability. They could make a stronger strategic case for what the Navy would do with those funds, and a different management of how the fleet is operated could generate more funds. Maybe it will lead to questions that a stronger surface force — cruisers, destroyers and littoral combat ships — with more offensive capabilities could substitute for a carrier in certain situations. There is a whole host of things.
“Sea control is very important, because if you can’t control the seas, you cannot use them to project power.”