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Navy to Call for Larger Fleet in 2018 Shipbuilding Plan
By Jon Harper



The Navy’s next long-term shipbuilding plan will outline a path for significantly boosting the size of the fleet beyond what current plans call for, a top service official said Jan. 10.
 
The Navy has been planning to expand the size of the force to 308 ships in the coming years. But President-elect Donald Trump has said he wants to grow the fleet to 350. The service’s recently released force structure assessment laid out requirements for a 355-ship Navy.
 
“I think we can safely say that the 2018 30-year shipbuilding plan is in all likelihood going to be larger than that laid out in the 2017 plan,” Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, the commander of Naval Surface Forces, said at the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium in Arlington, Virginia.
 
Rowden did not specify how much the force would expand under the new blueprint. But he suggested that existing ship types would likely drive the increase.
 
“As we look to the future surface combatant, I think that there are also opportunities there,” he said. “But for the time being, the ships that we have being built — both variants of the littoral combat ship and our guided missile destroyers … they provide us opportunity to grow that fleet more rapidly if we choose to do that.”  
 
In a budget constrained environment, questions remain as to whether enough funding would be available for a more ambitious shipbuilding plan. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the new assets called for in the existing plan would cost a total of $566 billion (in 2016 dollars) over 30 years, an average of $18.9 billion per year.  A notional fleet of 350 ships, by contrast, could cost $25 billion per year, which would be 60 percent above the historical average, the CBO said.
 
Rowden was asked if there would be enough money in the coffers to fulfill the Navy’s goals and invest in the high-tech capabilities being sought. He acknowledged that the service would need a larger shipbuilding budget.
 
“Ships cost what they cost, submarines cost what they cost, aircraft carriers cost what they cost,” he said. “If we’re going to get after increasing the number of ships in the United States Navy, whether it’s from the force structure assessment or other sources … we’re going to have to go find those resources in order to be able to execute.”
 
During his speech, Rowden outlined the service’s new surface force strategy, which was released Jan. 9. The document, subtitled “Return to Sea Control,” calls for greater focus on high-end warfare against other major naval powers.
 
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S. Navy had total dominance over the world’s major waterways. But China and Russia have been enhancing their capabilities and increasing their global reach in recent years, and they are now near-peer competitors, he noted.
 
“The world has changed and so must we,” he said.
 
Rather than focusing primarily on projecting power from the sea into enemy territory, as the Navy has in recent decades, the service will put greater emphasis on being prepared to attack enemy naval assets at sea, Rowden said.
 
“We need to get back in the business of killing ships and submarines, and we need to do it at extended range,” the surface forces chief said.
 
Going forward, investment priorities will be on increasing the offensive firepower on warships by continuing to modify existing over-the-horizon weapons and expanding procurement of improved anti-ship, anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities.

The service will pursue equipment that will improve battle space awareness and the effectiveness of surface forces by acquiring more advanced sensors, he said.

“We need to generate high quality data and get it to the shooters no matter where they are in the theater,” he said.
 
More investment in training systems and facilities will also be required to provide sailors the skills they need to take on advanced adversaries, he noted.
 
Rowden called on industry to help the Navy achieve the goals outlined in the new strategy.
 
“I urge you to give this document a read,” he told the gathering of government and industry officials. “If you’re in industry, brainstorm with each other about how you can best contribute to the objectives we laid out.”  

Photo: 
Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden (Navy)

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