The Pentagon plans to release its review of the Navy’s force structure this fall. John Whitley, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office Director nominee, said Defense Secretary Mark Esper felt the Navy’s shipbuilding plan didn’t include a clear pathway to 355 ships. Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, said Esper likely found the Navy’s plan didn’t properly account for budget constraints and didn’t match up with the operational concepts outlined by the Navy and Office of the Secretary of Defense.
“Apparently the issue was that the Navy’s proposal initially did not have a sustainable plan to be able to afford the fleet over the long term,” Clark said. “Both the plan to build the ships and sustain them over time presented problems to the Defense Department.”
In reimagining the force, Clark anticipates the Navy will rebalance towards smaller platforms, such as a light amphibious warship and a large unmanned surface vessel.
“This rebalancing towards a fleet that’s got more diversity of platforms, a larger number of small platforms will be a key element of that future force design,” he said. He expects the new study will have a similar number of carriers and submarines but more surface combatants and amphibious ships.
To save money, the Navy could choose to use existing or derivative designs for new ships rather than starting from scratch. The Navy currently plans to create a new design for a large surface combatant. The Navy requested $46.45 million for designs for the ship in the fiscal year 2021 budget request, and plans to spend $129.5 million on the ship the following year.
“I hope that the Navy thinks about doing more derivative designs in the larger ship categories to try to avoid getting into that problem we’ve seen before where we start a new design and it becomes unaffordable very quickly,” Clark said. The Navy will use a derivative design for its frigate program.
“The frigate exercise is encouraging, but I’m hoping they look at that as an approach they can pursue with these other platforms as well, because I just don’t know if there’s going to be money to start something new from scratch,” Clark said.
The Pentagon’s study on the Navy’s force structure is expected in the next four to six weeks and could come in the form of a Force Structure Assessment from the Navy. The Navy’s shipbuilding plan will also likely be delivered to Congress before the end of the fiscal year, Clark said.