In support of its mission to deter conflict or fight in wars if necessary, the Navy considers it a core responsibility to maintain a forward presence—to keep some of its fleet far from U.S. shores at all times in areas that are important to national interests. Toward that end, at any given time, about one-third of the fleet is deployed overseas. The rest of the Navy’s ships are in or near their home ports in the United States for maintenance, training, or sustainment (a period in which a ship is in port but ready to deploy quickly). Most of the ships that contribute to the Navy’s current forward presence of about 100 ships sail from ports in the United States; 31 others are now stationed permanently in foreign countries or at overseas U.S. military bases. In the future, the Navy expects to boost the proportion of ships that it bases abroad.
What Size Fleet Could the Navy Maintain With Smaller Shipbuilding Budgets?
CBO assessed the effects of three smaller annual shipbuilding budgets—$16 billion, $14 billion, and $12 billion—for the next 30 years. In all three cases, by 2044, the fleet would be smaller than would be the case under the Navy’s current plan (click figure to expand):
- Under the $16 billion budget, by 2044, the fleet would consist of 251 ships, 17 percent fewer than under the Navy’s current plan;
- Under the $14 billion budget, it would be 230 ships, 24 percent fewer than under the current plan; and
- Under the $12 billion budget, it would be 208 ships, 31 percent fewer than under the current plan.
How Could the Navy Maintain Its Forward Presence Under Smaller Shipbuilding Budgets?
The Navy could maximize its forward presence with smaller budgets by expanding the use of three methods that it currently applies to boost overseas operations:
- Deploying ships for longer periods,
- Basing more ships and their crews overseas, and
- Assigning more than one crew to some ships to permit longer deployments.