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Navy To Drop 3 Ships in 2013; Won’t ‘Ever’ Hit 313-Ship Goal

Posted by Colin Clark on

UPDATED: Budget Cuts 8 JHSVs; Two LCS; Two LSDs Retire Early; 1 Virginia Sub Slips Past FYDP; Analyst Says Retirements AND Cuts Mean Service Won’t ‘Ever’ Hit 313 Goal
WASHINGTON: The Navy plans to cut a total of 16 ships from its five-year budget, reducing the number of ships funded in fiscal 2013 by three, from 13 down to 10.

Most of these ships are expected to be the Joint High Speed Vessel, built for both the Navy and the Army, and other support ships. Several well informed analysts told me they do not expect the Navy to cut warships or submarines if it can possibly avoid that.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made clear over the weekend that the U.S. will maintain a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers. Cutting a carrier group had been one of the options most hotly discussed over the let six months. But the administration’s new Pacific tilt makes cuts to warships of any kind highly unlikely.

“It would be almost impossible to cut the number of submarines or major surface combatants because it would be seen as contradicting the administration’s new Pacific strategy,” Loren Thompson, noted defense consultant and author.

Here are the numbers: The 30-year shipbuilding plan put forward with the 2012 budget projected the following numbers:

2013 — 13 ships
2014 — 11 ships
2015 — 12 ships
2016 — 9 ships
2017 — 12 ships

That works out to a total of 57 ships of all types.

The Navy’s shipbuilding portion of the new defense budget plan, which Panetta will outline tomorrow afternoon, looks like this:

2013 — 10 ships
2014 — 7 ships
2015 — 8 ships
2016 — 9 ships
2017 — 7 ships

The total would be 41 ships.

Cutting any more deeply, or cutting more than a symbolic warship or two, would likely encounter strong opposition from Congress, and, Thompson noted, “would also greatly impair the industrial base which the administration says it is committed to protecting.”

One of the warships identified as a possible casualty by two analysts was the Littoral Combat Ship, of which the Navy plans to buy 10 each from Lockheed Martin and Austal. However, a veteran shipbuilding advocate said any cuts to LCS would be very difficult to make. Since the Navy’s contract covers all 10 ships from each maker, the Navy would find it difficult to make any cuts without breaking the contract, said Joe Carnevale, defense advisor to the Shipbuilders Council of America.

Also, Carnevale said a study he did of cuts to shipbuilding in the last drawdown following the fall of the Berlin Wall found that most cuts were made to ocean-going tugs, supply ships and similar craft.

Another Navy analyst put the calculus this way: “The question becomes do they delay the oiler program? I don’t think they are going to cut the submarines. We know the carriers aren’t going away. So, given you are probably cutting JHSV. Maybe some destroyers or subs are cut in ’17, but I think that would be it.”

This analyst ran through the numbers on the shipbuilding plan and said there was a high probability the Navy could still achieve its much-doubted fleet of 313 ships. It just wouldn’t be for as long a period as previously planned. That may ease the fears of Navy supporters on Capitol Hill.

UPDATE: After the initial budget numbers were revealed, this analyst sent us an email Friday morning saying he now did not “see the Navy ever getting to 313.” The analyst stressed that he had not yet done a detailed analysis of the ship numbers. He clearly felt confident enough given yesterday’s numbers to come to that conclusion without running a formal analysis. If correct, expect loud expressions of concern from Capitol Hill, where shipbuilding jobs are very highly regarded and where concerns about Navy readiness already abound.

What do you think?