The U.S. Navy Is Reducing Its Planned Number of Aluminum Ships
Steel boats are hardier, stronger, and able to take their punches in a way that cheaper aluminum based warships cannot.
America class amphibious assault ships, Ford-class carriers, Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Constellation-class Frigates and Virginia-class submarines are all being added to the U.S. Navy fleet in high numbers and at an ambitious pace. These growing areas of Navy shipbuilding focus, which include a massive addition of new large, medium and small ships and ocean drones, comprise vital elements of the fleet’s surge toward a 400-to-500 ship fleet.
The Navy’s thirty-year shipbuilding plan outlines an ambitious and fast-moving plan to double the number of amphibious assault ships to sixty-two by 2050, increase the yearly construction of attack submarines, add as many as ten new destroyers and, among other things, fund as many as fifteen new Frigates over just the next five years. For instance, the shipbuilding document says the Navy plans to make “investments in FY2022 in long lead time material and the stand up of a ‘follow yard’ in FY2023 to increase FFG production to three ships in 2023 and up to four new frigates by 2025.”
The Navy plan to accelerate Frigate, amphibious assault ship and destroyer production seems to parallel a commensurate Navy need for more steel ship construction, given that the concept of operation for the ship is to expand “blue water” warfare capability on the open ocean.
“The FFG(X) small surface combatant will expand blue force sensor and weapon influence to provide increased information to the overall fleet tactical picture while challenging adversary intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and tracking (ISRT) efforts,” previously released Naval Sea Systems Command FFG(X) documents said.
Austal USA, maker of the Independence variant of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, has been making efforts to anticipate the Navy’s push for more shipbuilding and heavier steel materials to build new warships by moving to steel production at its Alabama facility. Austal’s move to introduce steel ship production, which includes a $100 million investment, is part of a coordinated effort with the Navy to convert half of its aluminum manufacturing to steel production.
“We built the shipyard up from nothing and cornered the market on large aluminum ships. Since then the Navy has changed and China has emerged as a legitimate threat in the maritime domain. We have a great process so we thought ‘let’s do the same thing with steel. We went out and worked with DoD and came up with a plan to add steel to our facility here,” Larry Ryder, Austal USA’s vice president of business development and external affairs told The National Interest in an interview.
Austal’s initiative, which includes a move to invest more than $100 million into bringing steel production to its Alabama shipyard, is the kind of effort which seems entirely aligned with a new Congressional proposal to add as much as $25 billion in new funding to U.S. shipyards and its shipbuilding enterprise.
Kris Osborn is 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.