In December 2016, the Navy released a force-structure goal that calls for achieving and maintaining a fleet of 355 ships of certain types and numbers. The 355-ship goal was made U.S. policy by Section 1025 of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2810/P.L. 115- 91 of December 12, 2017). The Trump Administration has identified the achievement of a Navy of 355 or more ships within 10 years as a high priority. The Navy states that it is working as well as it can, within a Navy budget top line that is essentially flat in real (i.e., inflation-adjusted terms), toward achieving that goal while also adequately funding other Navy priorities, such as restoring eroded ship readiness and improving fleet lethality. Navy officials state that while the 355-ship goal is a priority, they want to avoid creating a so-called hollow force, meaning a Navy that has an adequate number of ships but is unable to properly crew, arm, operate, and maintain those ships.
The Navy states that its proposed FY2021 budget requests the procurement of eight new ships, but this figure includes LPD-31, an LPD-17 Flight II amphibious ship that Congress procured (i.e., authorized and appropriated procurement funding for) in FY2020. Excluding this ship, the Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requests the procurement of seven new ships rather than eight.
A figure of 7 new ships is less than the 11 that the Navy requested for FY2020 (a figure that excludes CVN-81, an aircraft carrier that Congress authorized in FY2019) or the 13 that Congress procured in FY2020 (a figure that again excludes CVN-81, but includes the above-mentioned LPD-31 as well as an LHA amphibious assault ship that Congress also procured in FY2020). The figure of 7 new ships is also less than the 10 ships that the Navy projected under its FY2020 budget submission that it would request for FY2021, and less than the average ship procurement rate that would be needed over the long run, given current ship service lives, to achieve and maintain a 355-ship fleet.
In dollar terms, the Navy is requesting a total of about $19.9 billion for its shipbuilding account for FY2021. This is about $3.9 billion (16.3 %) less than the Navy requested for the account for FY2020, about $4.1 billion (17.0%) less than Congress provided for the account for FY2020, and about $3.6 billion (15.3%) less than the $23.5 billion that the Navy projected under its FY2020 budget submission that it would request for the account for FY2021.
The Navy states that its FY2021 five-year (FY2021-FY2025) shipbuilding plan includes 44 new ships, but this figure includes the above-mentioned LPD-31 and LHA amphibious ships that Congress procured in FY2020. Excluding these two ships, the Navy’s FY2021 five-year shipbuilding plan includes 42 new ships, which is 13 less than the 55 that were included in the FY2020 (FY2020-FY2024) five-year plan and 12 less than the 54 that were projected for the period FY2021-FY2025 under the Navy’s FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan.
The Navy’s 355-ship force-level goal is the result of a Force Structure Assessment (FSA) conducted by the Navy in 2016. A new FSA, referred to as the Integrated Naval FSA (INFSA), is to be published sometime during the spring of 2020. Statements from Department of the Navy (DON) officials suggest that the INFSA could result in a once-in-a-generation change in the Navy’s fleet architecture, meaning the mix of ships that make up the Navy. DON officials suggest that the INFSA could shift the fleet to a more distributed architecture that includes a reduced proportion of larger ships, an increased proportion of smaller ships, and a newly created category of large unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Such a change in fleet architecture could alter the mix of ships to be procured for the Navy and the distribution of Navy shipbuilding work among the nation’s shipyards.