Saturday, January 06, 2007

Number and Age of US Navy Ships

The US has the largest Navy fleet in the world. At the beginning of 2006 the US Navy had 285 combat and support ships[1] (including 92 ships and 11 submarines on deployment)[2], and around 4,000 operational aircraft[3] (planes and helicopters).

The U.S. has 12 aircraft carriers, nine of them Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered supercarriers (10th is on the way). No one else has a single fully operational one.[4]

US Navy Battle Force Ship Inventory:

Source: Compiled from Congressional Budget Office, Options for the Navy’s Future Fleet, The Congress of the United States, Pub. No. 2680, May 2006.

The Navy has the world’s largest fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines and nuclear-powered ballistic-missile subs. They are also more advanced than any other competitor.

According to the official 30-year shipbuilding plan[5] that the Navy released in February 2006, the Navy needs 313 battle force ships to perform all of the tasks assigned to it. That number would be the permanent requirement around which the actual number of ships would rise and fall, depending on when ships were retired from the fleet and on what budgetary resources were available for buying new ships. The plan foresees buying a total of 275 ships over the 2006-2035 period—an average of 9.2 per year.

The Navy proposes to buy 51 ships between 2007 and 2011—one aircraft carrier, five submarines, six large surface combatants, 23 small surface combatants, 11 amphibious and maritime prepositioning ships, and five support ships. Over the same period, the Navy plans to retire one aircraft carrier, one small surface combatant, eight amphibious ships, 13 support ships, and two minesweeping ships. Moreover, the Navy would buy another 218 vessels between 2012 and 2035—six aircraft carriers, 44 attack submarines, 14 strategic ballistic missile submarines, 45 large surface combatants, 49 small surface combatants, 21 amphibious and maritime prepositioning ships, and 39 support ships.

The Navy also proposes to buy about 1,200 aircraft between 2007 and 2011. Add to that purchase of an additional 2,600 aircraft between 2012 and 2035, estimated by CBO. These include developing and acquiring several new types of aircrafts such as two strike fighters, one electronic warfare plane, a multimission support aircraft, and two large troop and cargo lift aircraft for the Marine Corps, two or three new types of unmanned aircraft and two kinds of training aircraft. It also plans to upgrade many of its existing planes and helicopters.

Source: Compliled from Congressional Budget Office, Options for the Navy’s Future Fleet, The Congress of the United States, Pub. No. 2680, May 2006.

Increasing and modernizing ships and aircraft as implied by that plan would cost an average of about $53 billion annually over the next three decades (in 2007 dollars), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Note that since 2000, the Navy had spent an average of about $43 billion a year to buy and operate its fleet.

The report foresees that the US no longer faces a large naval opponent, nor is one considered likely to exist in the next 10 years. In the future, the report argues, the Navy may be expected to perform the following missions in wartime, against either a large or a small opponent: Sea Control and Denial (defeating enemies’ area-denial strategies and anti access networks in littoral (coastal) regions; Land Attack and Support of Joint Forces on shore.

Navy officials generally agree that numbers still matter but in fact size matters only when carefully balanced with capabilities.

The average age of the Navy’s current battle force ships is 16.4 years—about one year less than half of the fleet’s notional service life of 35 to 36 years.

The average age of the 3,880 planes in the Navy and Marine Corps aircraft inventory is about 18 years, making it the oldest aircraft fleet in the history of the naval services. They become increasingly more costly due to maintaining and replacing electronics and avionics.[6]

I have not understood what the Navy and CBO mean with average. But I guess they refer to weighted average. If that is the case age figures given here and in the original publications should be treated with care. Because median average would be a better measure. I will discuss this issue in my next post on number and age structrure of US Air Force aircraft fleet.

[1] Combat and support ships, or battle force ships (as defined by the Navy) include aircraft carriers, submarines, surface combatants (cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and littoral combat ships), amphibious warfare ships, combat logistics ships, and certain support vessels.
[2] Sea Power Magazine, 2006 Almanac.
[3] 900 of which belong to Marine Corps.
[4] Oh yes, France has a nuclear aircraft carries Charles de Gaulle (which is half the size of the Nimitz) but it is in fact a black comedy.
[5] Department of the Navy, Report to Congress on Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY 2007 (February 2006).
[6] John A. Panneton, The Coming Crisis in Naval Aviation, Sea Power Magazine, December 2006.

PS. there must be a way to make the pictures more visible but unfortunately I am a bit HTML illiterate. It is very frustrating to end up with such bad quality images which took a lot of time to compile and prepare.

see also
Number and Age of US Air Force Aircraft
Number and Age of US Army Combat Vehicles

Tags: US Navy, US Military


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