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USN shipbuilding plan could cut total number of missile VLS cells, CBO says

The 30-year US Navy (USN) shipbuilding plan released in June could reduce the number of missile vertical launch system (VLS) cells, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, which was released on 16 September.

“The force structure goals expressed in the navy's [fiscal year (FY)] 2022 plan have a significant implication for how the distribution of VLS cells on the navy's surface could evolve,” the report noted.

“As a result of those changes (and CBO's assumptions about how those changes would be implemented), more surface combatants and unmanned systems would carry VLS cells, but the total number of VLS cells would be smaller,” it added.

The CBO said that the fleet's total VLS cell capacity represents one of the most important measures of the navy's offensive and defensive firepower.

“In the navy's objective force, the overall firepower (measured by the number of VLS cells) of the surface combatants would be less than it is today, but that force would pose a much harder targeting problem for an opposing fleet because the VLS cells would be deployed on many more ships,” the CBO reported.

Most cruisers and destroyers in today's fleet carry between 90 and 122 VLS cells, the CBO noted.

“Although the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) does not carry the VLS, the new Constellation-class frigate will carry 32 cells and the navy wants the large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) to carry 16 or 32 cells (the exact number is still to be determined),” the CBO reported.

Under the FY 2022 plan, the CBO noted, the navy would reduce the number of large surface combatants and increase the number of small surface combatants, as well as, presumably, the number of unmanned surface vessels carrying missiles.

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