CBO study questions timing, cost of expanded Navy fleet
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: October 26, 2018
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A non-partisan congressional study describes formidable challenges in cost and schedule as the Navy seeks to expand its fleet to 355 ships.
A larger fleet of warships is a key piece of the Trump administration’s plan to build up U.S. defense strength, and it has military, economic and political implications for Hampton Roads.
The region is home to the world’s largest naval base in Norfolk and the dominant U.S. military shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, headquartered in Newport News. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, has vowed to push for a 355-ship Navy from his seat as chairman of the House Armed Services sea power panel.
The fleet currently stands at 285 battle force ships.
If the Navy follows its 2019 shipbuilding plan, which includes retiring older ships, “it would not meet its goal of 355 ships at any time over the next 30 years,” according to the Congressional Budget Office report, which analyzed the plan in detail.
After that plan was submitted, Navy leaders told Congress they intended to extend the life of selected guided-missile destroyers and Los Angeles-class attack submarines, an admission that new construction alone wouldn’t allow them to reach their goal any time soon.
Those extensions would allow the Navy to reach 355 ships in 2034, but that plan “would fall short of the Navy’s specific goals for some types of ships,” the CBO states.
Funding represents another hurdle.
The Navy plans to purchase 301 new ships between 2019 and 2048. Those purchases will cost an average of $26.7 billion a year in this year’s dollars, the CBO says, although the Navy says the cost is $21 billion.
The CBO’s estimate increases to nearly $29 billion when other costs of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget are factored in, such as refueling nuclear-powered aircraft carriers at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division.
The CBO’s estimates are higher because it makes different assumptions about future ships in terms of designs and capabilities, the study says. It also takes a different approach than the Navy on shipbuilding labor and cost of materials.
“Much of the difference between the estimates stems from uncertainty about the design and capabilities of large ships being built 10 or 20 years from now … ” the report states.
The study also makes clear that Congress will have to increase its commitment to shipbuilding. The CBO’s estimate of $26.7 billion for new ship construction is almost double what the Navy has historically received from Congress each year, which is $13.6 billion.
The fleet expansion also includes an X-factor: A larger fleet would cost more to operate. The CBO did not include operation and maintenance costs of a 355-ship fleet, nor did it include the cost of extending the service life of destroyers and subs.
The destroyers would be extended from 35 or 40 years to 45 years; the subs from 33 to 43 years.
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