Video Above: How the US Navy Can Fast-Track Building 500 Warships:
The Navy is stepping up its intensity with ongoing efforts to expand, maintain and modernize its national shipbuilding infrastructure, a development deemed quite essential by Pentagon leaders, weapons developers and members of Congress in order to keep pace with China.
Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program
The service is seeking to expedite its ongoing Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program, a research and assessment effort intended to find avenues of improvement for shipyard productivity, scale, size and workforce capacity. The existence of this SIOP effort is in part based upon a candid recognition that the US Navy is in serious jeopardy of falling behind China when it comes to high-optempo shipbuilding and naval modernization overall.
“The challenges in shipyards are considerable, and it is a challenge brought on in part by the need for a proper workforce. We have added significant amounts of individuals, but the age of some of our shipyards is over 100-years old,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Appropriations Subcommittee in a 2023 budget hearing.
China is, for instance, already building its third and fourth aircraft carriers, plans to double its force of destroyers in coming years and is fast adding Type 075 amphibious assault ships, among other things. Leaders of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition cite concerns that China’s shipyards are in some instances four times larger than those in the US.
Video Above: China’s Navy is Larger than the US Navy, but can it Compete?
Citing the SIOP plan, Del Toro explained that the service was budgeting $2.8 billion to refurbish and upgrade the public shipyards that are government owned.
Recommended for You
“Those investments are significant. They were slowed down by the budget not being passed on time,” Del Toro added.
House Appropriations Subcommittee, Defense Chairwoman Betty McCollum, D-Minn, described the US Navy effort as “running behind,” citing “retention issues for the workforce and a long-term plan to get our ships in for maintenance.”
For instance, shipyard maintenance and upgrade operations will be crucial amid efforts to prepare the new USS Ford for its first deployment in coming months, and drydock sustainment is also of course crucial to mid-life refueling and overhaul efforts for existing carriers.
Del Toro called the SIOP effort the Navy’s largest capitalization program and inquired about possible legislative efforts to consider additional funding to include upgrades to public shipyards. The Navy Secretary also cited ongoing efforts to attract and retain a large, capable force of experienced workers needed to propel the effort.
As part of her stated concern about the functional capacity of US shipyards, McCollum also mentioned concerns about an apparent discrepancy between the number of ships the Navy will decommission, when compared to a much smaller number the Navy plans to add.
“Your budget included 27.9 billion for eight new ships, yet there is a plan to decommission 24 ships in 2023, including 16 that have not reached their end of service life,” she said, referring to the Navy's recent Navy plan to retire a large number of Littoral Combat Ships.
The Navy leadership maintains that the ships anti-submarine warfare systems and other combat capabilities are simply insufficient to meet a modern Chinese threat and that redirected funding would be better served on modernization efforts. However, given that the Navy seeks to retire as many as 8 to 10 LCS ships in the 2023 budget, some members of Congress are raising questions, saying that the more lightly armed ships could prove quite useful in less contested waters near Africa or South America.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.