CBO Testified on the Long-Term Outlook for the U.S. Navy's Fleet

January 21, 2010

Yesterday CBO senior analyst Eric Labs testified before the House Armed Services Committees Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces to discuss the challenges that the Navy is facing in its plans for building its future fleet. Specifically, the testimony focused on three matters: the Navys draft shipbuilding plan for fiscal year 2011; the effect that replacing Ohio class submarines (certain submarines that carry ballistic missiles) with a new class of submarines will have on the Navys shipbuilding program; and the number of ships that may be needed to support ballistic missile defense from the sea. CBOs analysis of those issues indicates the following:

  • If the Navy receives the same amount of money (adjusted for inflation) for ship construction in the next 30 years that it has over the past three decadesan average of about $15 billion per year in 2009 dollarsit will not be able to execute its fiscal year 2009 plan to increase the fleet from 287 battle force ships to 313. As a result, the draft 2011 shipbuilding plan drastically reduces the number of ships the Navy would purchase over 30 years, leading to a much smaller fleet than todays fleet or the one envisioned in the 2009 plan.
  • The draft 2011 shipbuilding plan increases the Navys stated requirement for its fleet from 313 ships to 324 through 2040, but the production schedule in the plan would buy only 222 ships, too few to meet the requirement. The reduction would come from the Navys combat ships. By 2040, the fleet would decline to 237 ships: 185 combat ships and 52 logistics and support ships. In comparison, todays fleet has 287 ships: 239 combat ships and 48 logistics and support ships.
  • CBOs preliminary estimate is that implementing the draft 2011 shipbuilding plan would cost an average of about $20 billion per year (in 2009 dollars) for all activities related to ship construction (including modernizing some current surface combatants and refueling ships nuclear reactors). A more detailed estimate will follow after the Navy formally submits its final 2011 plan to the Congress in February with the Presidents budget request.
  • Replacing the 14 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) of the Ohio classwhich are due to start reaching the end of their service lives in the late 2020swith 12 new SSBNs could cost about $85 billion.
  • Sea-based ballistic missile defense, a relatively new mission for the Navy, could require a substantial commitment of resources. That commitment could make it difficult for the Navy to fund other ship programs.