A U.S. Navy future vision paper, The Future Navy, released Wednesday lays out the need for a larger fleet and incorporating new technology, but it is reluctant to get specific on increased costs.

Following the Navy’s December Force Structure Assessment (FSA) calling for a 355 ship fleet (Defense Daily, Dec. 16, 2016),  Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson previously said the paper would explain how the service intends to both expand the fleet and incorporate new technologies into it (Defense Daily, April 27).

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson, the 31st CNO. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird)
Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson, the 31st CNO. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Nathan Laird)

While the report sketches out ideas on how the fleet can expand and increase its capability, both the CNO and the report are unwilling to estimate the additional costs yet. In a press call from Singapore on Monday, Richardson said a lot of the costs are yet to be determined but that the initial figures in terms of building what the industrial base is capable of “is far less than the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicted. But it’s more than we have in our traditional…procurement accounts.”

Last month the CBO said the Navy would have to spend an average of $26.6 billion a year over the next 30 years to reach the 355 ship goal, 40 percent more than Congress appropriated for ship construction in fiscal year 2015 and 60 percent more than the Navy has averaged in the past 30 years (Defense Daily, April 25).

“When you’re building things faster, a lot of the costing models that we’ve used historically don’t pertain.  So we’ll just have to work very closely with industry, work closely within our budget to prioritize,” Richardson said.

The Navy said current shipbuilding and aircraft production lines are active or “hot” but can do more at a more economical rate.

The report said the Navy will need 12 aircraft carriers to allow the deployment of five to six carrier strike groups “within relatively short time frames.” In the short to medium terms this will include a mix of fourth and fifth generation strike fighters, additional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and maritime patron and electronic attack aircraft

The report said buying more carriers at the economically-optimal rate of three to four years apart instead of the current five-plus years “will not only get us a more powerful fleet faster, but also will save considerable money.”

Richardson elaborated on the call how they could save money by building the carriers fewer years apart and building more of other vessels per year.

“It allows Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] and Newport News Shipbuilding, to, first of all, they can make much better decisions about their work force. So they can level their people out, level their training programs out.  The learning curve becomes much more rational. So you learn more from ship to ship.  Because a lot of those workers are still around if you compress the build rate a little bit.”

Newport News is a division of HII.

He added that at this rate materials can be purchased at optimum prices, with a lower-risk basis and then Huntington Ingalls might consider more capital investments to build things more efficiently. “Newport News Shipbuilding has done a lot of that already.”

Richardson said these kinds of savings are in the order of billions of dollars. “We have a lot of opportunity there.”

The CNO did not specify how long it would take to get to 12 carriers because it depends on how fast you build them and what they commit to in the build rate.

The report added this same increased capability is true of surface combatants with an analysis of the industrial base showing the U.S. could build up to seven more destroyers in the near term, 14 more small surface combatants, five more amphibious vessels than currently planned in the next six years, and speed construction of up to 12 more combat logistics and command and support ships in that same period.

Overall, the Navy said an analysis shows the current industrial base has the capacity to build 29 more ships and almost 300 more aircraft over the next seven years more than the current plan.

The report also said the Navy should not only procure additional ships but assess how much additional capacity it can get by upgrading and extending the lives of platforms they currently have but are planning to retire.

Photo: Navy/Static
U.S. Navy photo of the USS McCampbell (DDG-85)

Under this plan, the Navy intends to refurbish platforms by age and modernize capabilities. Richardson said “a real fruitful place to look would be extending the life of our DDGs, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.  We do this fairly routinely in the submarine force, so we can extend the life of our SSNs.  And so we just sort of take a platform by platform approach.”

He highlighted as long as platforms they choose, like the DDGs, remain relevant with capability, extending their life is another way to ramp up the numbers.

The report also discussed another method to increase capability for the dollar: finding the “knees” in cost-performance curves. The Navy said figuring out the right number and type of performance requirements for future platforms before increasing costs deliver less efficient returns will require a discussion involving industry leaders, technologists, defense labs, the requirements officers, and budget personnel.

“The conversation would determine the most achievable path to improve performance in a way that’s affordable, with low technological risk, on a well-understood schedule,” the paper said.

The report noted that next year will be the year the Navy will use to consolidate its readiness and achieve a better balance. “as we restore wholeness, we’ll ensure that we continue to grow the Navy and establish a firm foundation for accelerating growth in following years.”

The Navy said it will be targeting a more capable fleet in the mid-2020s, rather than the 2040s, as most analyses conclude is feasible using procurement. This target considers “exponential types of growth, step types of growth rather than…linear types of growth,” Richardson said.

The Navy will have to get more capability out of what it currently owns and bring new technologies and platforms into the mix as quickly as possible, the report said.

New technologies and platforms include unmanned platforms under water, on the water, and in the air as well as networking various platforms together.

Richardson highlighted “this networking allows a tremendous amount of combinations, adaptive combinations to emerge, and it allows us to stitch in and collaborate much more meaningfully with the joint force if it’s thoughtfully done.”

The step function for networking, according to Richardson, involves building the networks to get Navy platforms compatible and talking to each other, combining their various sensors, “and then connecting those in a much more seamless way with all of the platforms and payloads that are out there.”

The CNO said this allows things to be combined in a very creative way and “frankly, we are moving into that space pretty quickly.”