BREAKING: Trump Administration Unveils New 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan
The Trump administration on Dec. 10 released a new long-term shipbuilding plan aimed at boosting the capacity and capability of the Navy’s fleet.
The blueprint for fiscal years 2022-2051 came on the heels of a review conducted earlier this year known as the Future Naval Force Study, which was led by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist.
The Navy normally submits its shipbuilding plan early in the calendar year around the time the president’s budget request for the following fiscal year is sent to Congress. But this year the delivery of the shipbuilding plan was delayed to allow for the Future Naval Force Study to be completed.
The release of the new plan also follows the unveiling of former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s vision of the future fleet dubbed Battle Force 2045, with the goal of maintaining U.S. naval superiority over China in coming decades. Esper was fired by President Donald Trump in November.
“The results from the [Future Naval Force Study] and this shipbuilding plan reaffirm the requirement for a larger, more resilient Navy,” the new shipbuilding report said.
Key priorities outlined include: fully funding recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarine fleet with the Columbia-class; prioritizing readiness recovery to deliver “a combat-credible forward force” in the near-term; investing in increased lethality and modernized capabilities with the greatest potential to deliver “nonlinear” warfighting advantages against China and Russia in the mid- to long-term; and growing capacity at a rate supported by fiscal guidance and the Navy’s ability to sustain that capacity in the future, to enable the fleet to grow to 316 manned battle force ships by fiscal year 2026.
The service currently has just under 300 battle force ships.
Unmanned platforms are a key component of the proposed force structure.
“Unmanned systems continue to advance in capability and are anticipated to mature to become key enablers through all phases of warfare and in all warfare domains,” the document said. “Significant resources are added to accelerate fielding the full spectrum of unmanned capabilities, including man-machine teaming ahead of full autonomy.”
For the future years defense program in fiscal years 2022-2026, the blueprint calls for providing a total of about $4.3 billion for 12 large unmanned service vessels, one medium unmanned surface vessel, and eight extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles.
The Future Naval Force Study called for 143 to 242 unmanned surface and undersea vessels, including 119 to 166 USVs and 24 to 65 UUVs.
The shipbuilding report said more details about long-term acquisition plans for robotic systems would come later.
“As we learn from land-based testing and as prototypes are matured, specific procurement profiles outside the FYDP will be refined,” the document said.
Plans call for procuring 82 new manned vessels over the next five years at a cost of $147 billion. That includes two Ford-class aircraft carriers and advanced procurement for a third carrier; 10 DDG-51 destroyers; 15 Constellation-class guided missile frigates; 12 Virginia-class attack submarines; and two Columbia-class submarines.
Officials are also looking at adding a number of light aircraft carriers to the fleet.
“The department also recognizes the need for continued exploration of carrier evolution and expects to conduct an analysis of alternatives within the FYDP to inform potential requirements,” the document said.
Senior Navy officials who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity said an analysis would be conducted in fiscal year 2022 to look at the future of the carrier force.
Over the next 30 years, the plan calls for procuring: six aircraft carriers; 55 large surface combatants; 76 small surface combatants; 77 attack submarines; 11 ballistic missile subs; four large payload subs; 71 amphibious warfare ships; 80 combat logistics force ships; and 24 support vessels.
After accounting for retirements of legacy vessels, the total battle force inventory would reach: 316 ships by 2026; 347 by 2030; 377 by 2035; 398 by 2040; 403 by 2045; and 405 by 2051.
When unmanned vessels are included, the fleet would have more than 500 ships by 2036 and about 650 ships by 2045, according to the blueprint.
“This 30-year shipbuilding plan reflects the National Defense Strategy priority to build a more lethal force” to complete with China and Russia, it said.
The proposed buildup would come with a hefty price tag, with the annual shipbuilding account needing to increase to nearly $34 billion by the end of the FYDP. For 2020, Congress allocated about $24 billion for Navy shipbuilding.
Additionally, sustainment funding is projected to rise to $40 billion by 2028.
“This level of projected funding will address both the force structure described in this plan and the manning, training, operations, modernization and infrastructure required to sustain a larger fleet,” the report said.
A senior Navy officials said the plan was “fully funded” within the Defense Department topline for the future years defense program, with some if it coming from efficiencies and other budget tradeoffs. The plan assumes 2 percent real growth in the budget annually in the longer term.
“What's different in this plan is we … have a good assumption in terms of what is a reasonable budget in the future, and then ensured as we build and deliver these ships that it is balanced with what it's going to take to sustain these ships, so that we have got a balanced program here,” said another senior Navy official.
Shipbuilding received about 10 percent of the Navy budget in the fiscal year 2021 submission. Under the new shipbuilding plan, that would increase to about 12 percent in 2022, and an average of about 14 percent across the FYDP. In comparison, the average amount of the Navy topline going to shipbuilding during the Reagan Era buildup was about 13 percent, according to a senior service official.
The capacity of the industrial base is a key concern.
“The industrial base continues to be the fundamental enabler for achieving and sustaining the Navy’s future fleet,” the report said. “Our shipbuilding and supporting vendor base constitute a national security imperative that must be steadily supported and grown, to maintain a skilled workforce. Consistent commitment to the steady acquisition profiles underlying this report is required to ensure the industrial supplier base achieves the capability and capacity required.”
The Navy intends to fund efforts to expand infrastructure and bolster the workforce.
“We are making targeted and large investments to build the base,” said a senior official. “We need not just live with the base we have.”
The investments will create jobs and benefit the economy, he added.
“We're a maritime nation,” he said. “We need to have the maritime industry sized and delivering at the rate we need so we can continue to have a competitive advantage in our naval force.”
However, the new plan could be short-lived. President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, and the new administration is expected to conduct its own budget review to align with its priorities before it submits a request for 2022.
“I suspect we will do another shipbuilding plan in conjunction with the normal timeline in the budget,” said one official during the briefing.
“It will reflect all of this work and any additional study we've done between now and then.”
Another official added: “If there is something that changes in a future budget submit, the shipbuilding plan would be modified to be consistent with that budget.”