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The $842 billion budget request, which the Defense Department will formally unveil on Monday, will not ask to buy LPD-33 in the FY 2024 Future Years Defense Program. That ship was previously scheduled for procurement in FY 2025. Lawmakers authorized and appropriated $250 million in advanced procurement funding for the LPD-17 Flight II warship last year in the FY 2023 defense policy and spending bills at the request of the Marine Corps.
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After delays last year, the Navy sent Congress a separate amphibious ship requirements study that had been in the works for months, but the report was classified. Last month, Del Toro said the Navy is working on a new evaluation of battle force ships that would inform its amphibious ship procurement.
The FY 2024 proposal to halt the LPD-17 Flight II line is expected to receive criticism in Congress, which last year provided the Marine Corps Commandant with a direct say in deciding the amphibious ship requirement and force structure. Lawmakers set a floor of 31 large amphibious warships, a benchmark both Berger and lawmakers argued for Thursday at the event.
To reach the 31-ship amphibious floor, the Navy would need to adjust its approach to buying amphibious ships and retiring older ones, according to Eric Labs, a senior analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.
After a yearlong competition among four shipbuilders, the Navy selected Fincantieri Marinette Marine to build the lead ship and up to nine more ships of the FFG(X) class of guided missile frigates. (A frigate is a small warship designed to conduct a variety of missions, including antisubmarine warfare, anti-ship warfare, and air defense, among other activities.) The 10 ships would be procured between 2020 and 2025. Currently, the Navy plans to buy a total of 20 FFG(X) frigates and expects to hold a future competition to select the builder of the second 10 ships.
The Navy also has 22 LCSs, another type of small surface combatant, and the Congress has authorized the construction and purchase of 13 more. The new LCSs are being built in two variants: the Freedom class steel monohull, by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin, and the Independence class aluminum trimaran, by Austal in Mobile, Alabama. LCSs differ from frigates in that they are equipped to perform a single primary mission, such as antisubmarine warfare or mine countermeasures, at a time. They are not designed to be multimission warships, as cruisers, destroyers, and frigates are.3
CBO independently estimated the costs of the FFG(X) program, both to procure the ships and to operate and support those ships over the course of their expected service life. The agency examined other surface combatant programs to develop a weight-based estimate of the costs for the first 10 FFG(X) ships as well as for the 10 ships the Navy plans to purchase in the future. CBO relied on the operating-cost model it used for other ships to develop its estimate of the operation and support costs for the 20 FFG(X) ships over their anticipated 25-year life.
Between 1970 and 2019, the Navy purchased seven classes of surface combatant.8 Those included one cruiser class, the CG-47 Ticonderoga; three destroyer classes, the DD-963 Spruance, the Arleigh Burke, and the DDG-1000 Zumwalt; one frigate class, the Perry; and two variants of littoral combat ships, the LCS-1 Freedom and the LCS-2 Independence. The capabilities of those ships and their cost by weight vary widely. Generally, larger ships are more capable than smaller ones because the larger ships are equipped with more capable combat systems and more weapons, have more installed power, and are built to higher standards of survivability, among other differences.
The difference in cost per weight between the FFG(X) and other Navy surface combatants persists when CBO extends its analysis to also include follow-on ships. (Follow-on ships are the group of ships purchased after the lead ship.) As in the case of lead ships, the average cost per thousand tons of the first 10 FFG(X)s is substantially less than the cost of any comparable group of surface combatants the Navy has built since 1970 (see Figure 1, bottom panel).
Second, costs may rise on a fixed-price contract when the government makes major changes to the specifications of a shipbuilding program. The Lewis and Clarke T-AKE logistics-ship program in the 2000s provides an example. In that program, the Navy signed a fixed-price contract (similar to the FFG[X] contract) with the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company of San Diego (NASSCO) for 12 ships. After buying several ships, the Navy reduced the number of ships it would buy to 11. That broke the contract, leading to a renegotiation with NASSCO. NASSCO stated that it earned little or no profit and might even have lost money on the first few ships because higher-than-expected commodity prices affected what it paid for materials and its schedule was disrupted by delays in receiving components from suppliers who were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. In renegotiating the contract for the remaining ships, the Navy and NASSCO agreed to higher prices for the early ships and lower prices for later ships. The net result was that NASSCO likely received more money for 11 ships under the renegotiated contract than it would have received for 12 ships under the original contract. The Navy later added three more ships to the program and NASSCO continued to build ships for the Navy.
The Navy estimates that the lead Columbia class submarine (a lead ship is the first ship of its class) will take at least seven years to build, so the first one would be commissioned into the fleet in 2028. Another two or three years would elapse, however, before it went on its first deterrent patrol. Subsequent submarines in the class would take about seven years to build and test. Over the past two years, the Navy has determined that it can extend the service life of 5 Ohio class submarines by two to three years each so that the SSBN force would remain at 12 ships or more for all but three years between 2023 and 2052.
Attack and Large Payload Submarines. The Navy currently has 50 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs): 26 Los Angeles class, 3 Seawolf class, and 21 Virginia class ships.10 The fleet also includes 4 guided missile submarines (SSGNs), which are converted ballistic missile submarines that can carry large numbers of conventional missiles and special operations forces. According to the 2023 shipbuilding plan, after an initial decline to 46 SSNs in 2028, the SSN force would become larger and more capable than it is today. Under Alternative 1, the Navy would buy 54 SSNs and would have 60 in the fleet by 2052 (see Figure 3, second panel, and see Figure 4). Under Alternative 2, the Navy would buy the most SSNs, purchasing 66 of them over the next 30 years. In that case, the force would reach 60 SSNs by 2045 and 69 by 2052. Under Alternative 3, the Navy would purchase 60 SSNs; its inventory would reach 60 ships by 2046 and 65 ships by 2052.
Small Surface Combatants. The Navy now has 25 littoral combat ships (LCSs), categorized as small surface combatants, in its fleet and also operates 8 mine countermeasures ships, which it sometimes includes in that category. (CBO does not include mine countermeasures ships in its tally of small surface combatants.) An additional 7 LCSs and 3 FFG-62 Constellation class frigates are being built. Under all three alternatives in the 2023 plan, the number of LCSs would fall in the near term as 11 ships were retired over the next two years; all of the ships to be retired will be less than 10 years old.14 The Navy would keep just 21 of the 35 ships it will have built until the end of their planned 25-year service life.
The composition of the small surface combatant force would vary among the three alternatives. Under Alternative 1, the Navy would purchase 17 FFG-62s through 2035 (in addition to the 3 frigates already under construction) before switching to an upgraded design of that ship, designated as the FFG-62 Flight II (see Figure 4, fourth panel). Under Alternative 2, the Navy would buy only 11 FFG-62s before switching to the upgraded version in 2029, buying 44 of the Flight IIs in total. The service would buy 17 FFG-62s under Alternative 3 before switching to the Flight II ship. In all three cases, ships would be purchased at a rate of 1 or 2 per year through the mid-2030s, then largely at a rate of 2 per year thereafter.
In the absence of a force structure assessment, the Navy compared its three alternatives using several measures of capability. By emphasizing different types of ships in Alternatives 1 and 2, and by allocating additional resources in Alternative 3, the Navy sought to illustrate several trade-offs in the lethality of its fleet. Specifically, it counted the number of:
Under all three alternatives in the 2023 plan, the Navy would buy 11 new Columbia class submarines over the next 15 years. (The first Columbia class ship was ordered in 2021.) In addition, the service plans to purchase 4 or 6 large payload submarines (depending on which alternative is implemented) that could carry large numbers of missiles or special operations forces.
The Navy currently estimates that the first Columbia class ship will cost $15.3 billion (in 2022 dollars) and that subsequent ships in that class would cost $7.4 billion, on average. The total procurement cost for the 12 submarines would be $96.7 billion (which includes appropriations of $15.5 billion from 2017 to 2022), or $8.1 billion per ship, on average.
Attack Submarines. The alternatives in the 2023 shipbuilding plan take substantially different approaches to the future of the attack submarine force. Under Alternatives 1 and 3, the Navy would continue to buy Virginia class ships with VPMs through 2036 but would also purchase the first new SSN(X) in 2034 and then put that ship into serial production in 2037. Overall, under Alternative 1, the Navy would buy 23 Virginia class ships with VPMs and 31 SSN(X)s. Under Alternative 3, with more money to spend, it would purchase 27 Virginia class submarines with VPMs and then 33 SSN(X)s. The Navy would buy both types of submarines at roughly the rate of 2 per year over the next three decades. 041b061a72