The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) version of the FY ‘22 defense authorization bill would direct the Navy to present a force structure assessment to Congress within six months of major changes.

Within 180 days of “covered events,” the Chief of Naval Operations would have to submit a battle force assessment and requirement to the congressional defense committees within 180 days.

According to the bill, covered events means a “significant change” to strategic guidance resulting in changes to theater campaign plans or warfighting scenarios; strategic construction of vessel or aircraft that affects sustainable peacetime presence or warfighting response timelines; operating concepts including employment cycles, crewing constructs or operational tempo limits that affect peacetime presence or warfighting response timelines; or assigned missions that affect the type or quantity of force elements.

This comes after two years of the Navy submitting long term fleet plans months or nearly a year late. 

The Navy submitted an abridged long-range shipbuilding plan to Congress in June, although it was due in line with the FY ‘22 budget request, released in May (Defense Daily, June 21).

With both submissions, the Navy did not disclose its five-year Future Years Defense Program plan or the more detailed 30-year plan in the case of the long-range plan, like normal.

The last 30-year shipbuilding plan was delivered almost a year late and a month before the Trump administration departed but mapped out massive fleet increases (Defense Daily, Dec. 10, 2020).

Moreover, the Navy’s most recent force structure assessment, arrived months after being promised due to additional reviews directed by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper folded into his Battle Force 2045 plan.

Esper directed his office to perform the study to conduct, modify and supersede the traditional internal Navy Department force structure assessment and 30-year shipbuilding plan (Defense Daily, Sept. 11, 2020).

Under the SASC provision, each assessment would have six parts, starting with“a review of the strategic guidance of the Federal Government, the Department of Defense, and the Navy for identifying priorities, missions, objectives, and principles, in effect as of the date on which the assessment is submitted, that the force structure of the Navy must follow.”

Other elements of the assessment include identifying the steady-state demand for maritime security and security force assistance activities; identifying force options that can satisfy the steady-state demands for activities required by theater campaign plans of combatant commanders; a force optimization analysis producing a “day-to-day global posture required to accomplish peacetime and steady-state tasks assigned by combatant commanders;” modeling the ability of the force to fight and win scenarios approved by DoD; and a calculation of the number and global posture of each force elements required to meet the steady-state presence demands and warfighting response timelines.

The assessment is directed to identify the number of battle force ships required, the classes of the ships and the number required per class every five years from the covered event, going out to 30 years total.

The final provision directs the enactment of the bill to act as a baseline for the covered events, requiring an initial baseline report within six months of the provision becoming law.

Separately, another provision in the Senate bill looks to constrain the Navy’s ability to retire ships early, before the end of their expected service life.

If the Navy wishes to decommission or inactivate battle force ships before their expected service lives end, the Secretary of the Navy must submit a certification to the congressional defense committees.

In the FY ‘22 budget request the Navy is seeking to retire four Littoral Combat Ships: USS Coronado (LCS-4), USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9), with LCS-9 commissioned in 2017. These ships were originally planned to serve for about 25 years.

The Navy also requested to decommission seven Ticonderoga-class cruisers in FY ‘22, adding two to a previous plan. This month, a provision added to the House version of the FY ‘22 defense policy bill allows the service to only retire up to four cruisers including the USS Port Royal (CG-73), USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), USS Hué City (CG-66) and USS Anzio (CG-68). 

The Navy also wants to retire the USS San Jacinto (CG-56), USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) and USS Monterey (CG-61). 

Last week, the White House released a statement of administration policy arguing against any language limiting the retirement of lower priority platforms (Defense Daily, Sept. 22).

That certification would affirm that maintaining the battle force ship in a “reduced operating status”, maintaining the ship with “reduced capability”, maintaining the ship as a Navy Reserve unit, and transferring the ship to the Coast Guard is not feasible.

Moreover, the Navy Secretary would affirm that maintaining the ship is not required to support the most recent national defense strategy and maintaining the ship is not required to support the operational plans of any combatant commander. The ship can then be retired 30 days after the certification is submitted.