The undersecretary of the Navy said the service’s leadership should be getting a draft of the next Force Structure Assessment (FSA) in November.

Then the Navy leaders will have a chance to adjust the report before a final report is released some time next year, Undersecretary Thomas Modly told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast on Thursday.

Thus far, the new FSA has been driven by the OPNAV staff and Modly said that while he has not been involved in FSA deliberations thus far he was “very anxious…to start being engaged in it.”

Undersecretary of the Navy Thomas Modly is briefed by Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, commanding officer of Naval Base Guam, during a visit on Sept. 30, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
Undersecretary of the Navy Thomas Modly is briefed by Capt. Jeffrey Grimes, commanding officer of Naval Base Guam, during a visit on Sept. 30, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The undersecretary said that he thinks many things have changed since the last FSA in 2016 related to advancements in U.S. capabilities, advancements in the capabilities of peer and near-peer competitors, and overall technology advances.

Modly highlighted that since the 2016 study the Navy has decided on the FFG(X) future frigate competition and the service will have to see how that fits into the small surface combatant (SSC) category.

The 2016 FSA called for the Navy to boost its numbers to 355 ships, consisting of 12 carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 52 small surface combatants, 38 amphibious warfare ships, 66 attack submarines (SSNs), 12 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), 32 combat logistics force ships, 10 expeditionary fast transport vessels, six expeditionary support bases and 23 command and support ships (Defense Daily, Jan. 16, 2016).

The Navy expected the SSC ships to consist of  32 Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) and the remaining 20 to be the new frigates. However, Congress appropriated three, rather than the two requested LCSs in the FY ’18 defense budget. Congress then appropriated three rather than one LCS in the recently approved FY ’19 budget, boosting the total to 35 total LCSs (Defense Daily, Sept. 14).

House authorizers previously argued against building just one more LCS in FY ’19 for fears it could pause production at one of the two LCS shipyards, which could lead to layoffs and then reduce the chance of favorable pricing in the FFG(X) competition (Defense Daily, April 25).

In May, Navy acquisition chief James Geurts said the possibility that Congress would procure more LCSs than planned for the FSA was not changing the service’s plans to buy at least 20 new frigates (Defense Daily, May 2).

“We have not changed our requirements for the frigate. Our intent is still a 20-ship minimum on the frigate,” Geurts had said.

Modly said he thinks of the Navy’s topline number more flexibly than strictly 355 ships, which could, in part, reflect Congress’ preference for more LCSs.

“When I look at our force mix at 355 I always says 355-plus” because it will be more than just the 350-ship range, but also “plus a lot of other stuff that would not be in the ship mix” but still adds lethality like unmanned platforms.

“Unmanned is a huge priority for the Navy” and so it is heavily investing in those capabilities and seeing how that will become part of the service’s future strategy, the undersecretary said.

He added there is no specific goal or quota for unmanned systems in the future larger fleet but it will involve “a bigger integration of unmanned.”