After years of under funding, the [fiscal year] 2003 budget request ... represents a dramatic improvement for the Department of the Navy," Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England told the Senate Armed Forces Committee earlier this year. But that "dramatic improvement" is being seen by some observers as doing little for the long-term future of the Navy.
The FY 2003 budget provides for the construction of only five ships, as shown in Table 1. Although Secretary England also told Congress that there is a need for the steady-state procurement of eight to ten ships per year, such a building rate is unlikely in the foreseeable future. On the basis of an average 30-year service life, a building rate of ten ships per year would be needed to sustain a fleet of just more than 300 ships. A further complication is the recent statement by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark that he wants to add 30 to 60 Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) to the fleet. How will those ships figure in the shipbuilding budget?