The Navy is pushing for the largest fleet build up since the Reagan administration, but its envisioned 355-ship force would require billions of dollars more than taxpayers are spending now. Even with accelerated spending, it would still take decades to reach its goal.
The findings are contained in the latest Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Department of Defense’s 2019 shipbuilding plan, which covers fiscal years 2019 to 2048. It was submitted to Congress in February.
The average annual cost of carrying out that plan over the next 30 years would be about $28.9 billion in 2018 dollars, CBO estimates. Hstorically, the Navy has spent $13.6 billion annually (in 2018 dollars) on new ships.
The new shipbuilding plan would cost 80 percent more per year than the Navy has received over the past 30 years, according to the agency.
Since 2013, Congress has appropriated $1 billion to $3 billion more per year than the President’s request, partly as a result of concerns that the fleet is too small to perform all its assigned missions.
As of Sept., the Navy fleet consisted of 285 battle aircraft carriers, submarines, surface combatants, amphibious ships, combat logistics ships, and support ships.
Despite current numbers, the Navy would need to build 301 new ship by 2048, not only to expand the fleet, but to also to replace aging vessels. And, that doesn’t take into account the Navy’s current plans to retire ships.
Instead, Navy brass told Congress in April it plans to extend the service life of all DDG-51 destroyers to 45 years, five to ten years longer than indicated in the 2019 and earlier shipbuilding plans. It also expects to extend the life of up to 7 Los Angeles class submarines from 33 years to about 43 years.
The move would put the Navy on target to reach its 355 ship fleet by 2034.
The price tag would average $26.7 billion a year based on 2018 dollars, the CBO estimates. The total price tag would be $631 billion over 30 years in 2018 dollars over 30 years, according to the Navy. The CBO, however, puts its own estimate at closer to $800 billion.
“The Navy’s shipbuilding plan also reports only the costs of new-ship construction. It excludes other activities typically funded from the Navy’s budget account for ship construction that would, in CBO’s estimate, add $2.1 billion to the Navy’s average annual shipbuilding costs under the 2019 plan,” according to the analysis.
Beside construction costs, operational costs would soar. Over the next 30 years the cost would be much greater than either the cost of purchasing the new ships or the recent budgets for operating today’s fleet, the analysis states.
In a separate report, the CBO estimated the cost to build, crew, and operate a 355-ship fleet would average $102 billion per year through 2047, compared with $56 billion annually with the current fleet.
The CBO also noted that buying additional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to outfit the additional 63 ships would require $15 billion more than the Navy would spend on aircraft under its existing plan.
“Those costs do not reflect the additional weapons or unmanned systems that the Navy would need to purchase to arm the new ships or the cost of improvements to the shipyards that would be needed to build ships at higher rates,” the report stated.