Ship boat

Navy fleet to shrink further under 2023 ship decommissioning plan

The US Navy’s first littoral combat ship, Freedom. The Navy plans to retire nine LCS, most or all of the Freedom class. US NAVY

ARLINGTON, Va. — Normally, the number of new U.S. Navy ships requested for the next fiscal year gets the most media attention, but this time it’s the number of ships the Navy is seeking to decommission that has attracted the most attention.

As part of the Future Years Defense Plan, the size of the Navy’s combat force would increase from 298 today to 280 in fiscal year 2027. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday said advocated divestment in order to invest, and this budget supports that concept.

During the Department of the Navy’s fiscal year 2023 budget briefing March 28 at the Pentagon, Rear Admiral John Gumbleton, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said the Navy is asking the withdrawal of 24 ships, compared to the construction of nine combat force ships.

Gumbleton listed the types of the 24 ships targeted for retreat:

  • 9 littoral combat ships
  • 5 Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers
  • 2 Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarines
  • 2 Henry J. Kaiser fleet replenishment tankers
  • 4 Whidbey Island or Harpers Ferry class landing craft
  • 2 Montford Point-class Expeditionary Transfer Dock Vessels

He said the retirements would save the Navy $3.6 billion on the defense plan for future years.

Most, if not all, littoral combat ship retirements would be of the struggling Freedom variant and save the Navy $50 million a year. Additionally, under the 2023 plan, the LCS anti-submarine warfare mission package would not be installed on the remaining LCS, with the ASW mission being taken over by the new Constellation-class frigate.

The two Montford Point-class expeditionary transfer dock ships are less than 10 years old and their proposed retirement reflects changes in Marine Corps amphibious operational concepts toward more distributed maritime operations.

The Navy recently highlighted our issues with the older Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers, with security levels being a major issue.

The nine combat force ships requested for 2023 by the Navy include:

  • 2 Virginia-class SSNs
  • 2 Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers
  • 1 Constellation-class missile frigate
  • 1 US-class amphibious assault ship
  • 1 Flight II class amphibious transport berthed ship San Antonio
  • 1 John Lewis-class fleet replenishment tankers
  • 1 Navajo-class tow, salvage and salvage vessel

For 2022, the Navy requested eight ships, but Congress increased the number to 13 when enacting this budget.

Budget 2023 would continue to fund the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, Ford-class aircraft carriers, and advance procurement for two Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Gumbleton said 2023 would be the last year for the purchase of the San Antonio-class transport dock vessel.

Additionally, as part of the defense plan for future years, production of the Constellation-class missile frigate would alternate between one and two ships from year to year.

Procurement of the light amphibious warfare vessel and submarine tender replacement would begin in fiscal year 2025, followed by the next-generation logistics vessel in 2026. Research and development funding is provided for the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel and the Very Large Unmanned Underwater Vessel.

Budget 2023 would also fund the purchase of two used sealift vessels for the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force.

FY23 also calls for funding for two LCAC 100 class ship-to-shore connectors and life extension of two LCAC 01 class connectors; but does not call for more new LCU 1700-class utility landing craft. The plan would also fund advance procurement funds for the refueling and overhaul of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), which the Navy recently wanted to decommission to fund other priorities.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces group, criticized the Navy’s “divest to invest” strategy, which is shrinking the fleet. He released a statement on March 28, excerpted below:

“I am particularly disappointed that while we aim to grow our naval and projection forces, this budget continues the strategy of divestment to invest which will reduce our fleet again., underinvesting in the fifth generation fighters we need to compete against peer adversaries, reduces the structure of our Air Force tanker force and once again prioritizes future technologies over capability and the capabilities that the military needs now to ensure that we have a credible US military. I will work with my congressional colleagues this year to ensure that we deliver a defense budget that truly invests in our nation’s national security.