U.S. Navy Ship Design Project Numbers, 1946-1979:

By Christopher C. Wright, Editor in Chief, Warship International

Published in Warship International, Vol. 59, no. 4, December 2022, pp. 255-56.

This section of the Shipscribe website presents a list of all U. S. Navy Ship Characteristics Board (SCB) project numbers of 1946-1964, together with a list of shipbuilding budget ship project numbers issued during 1965-1979 by successor offices. The SCB numbers provide an authoritative catalog of all ship acquisition programs approved by the Navy’s top leadership, although a significant number were not advanced to completion. Successor agency project numbers were applied only to ships placed in budget plans, thereby omitting design projects dropped before inclusion in a budget request.

The SCB existed during 1945 to 1970 as an entity within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OpNav.) It was established on 15 March 1945 by direction of the Secretary of the Navy. Its concept appears to have been inspired by SecNav direction on 31 January 1945 to transfer the Interior Control Board from the Office of the Secretary of the Navy to OpNav. The Interior Control Board had been established pre-war to coordinate planning among Navy bureaus and offices concerning shipboard internal communications (e.g., telephone circuit routing.) The SecNav’s 31 January letter also delegated to the CNO “the authority to modify further or supersede” the standing 1942 Interior Control Board charter.

The CNO, ADM King, subsequently requested that SecNav authorize the creation within OpNav of a broader Ship Characteristics Board. He stated that “I find that the real need, which the Interior Control Board and the long inactive Ship Development Board only partially filled, is for a suitable and adequate agency to determine the characteristics of ships in such detail as will insure that they meet fleet requirements.” Further, he said “In my opinion, it is necessary to establish a Ship Characteristics Board for developing in detail the recommendations of the General Board, and for handling and deciding detailed ship characteristics questions as necessary to permit the General Board to handle its broader and more important responsibilities, in order to insure that the characteristics of all naval vessels (projected, building and on hand) not meet, but anticipate wherever possible, the requirements of all phases of naval warfare.”

The newly established SCB gained wide oversight of shipbuilding and ship configuration. “The term ‘ship characteristics’ was defined as embracing all qualities and features of a ship, determining or affecting its capabilities for accomplishing its mission”. (Furer, p.166) The approved recommendations of the General Board were to be “SCB’s broad basic guides in arriving at decisions, but the new board soon departed from this concept of its method of operation and gradually took over all of the functions of the General Board in this field. This became one of the reasons for abolishing the General Board a few years after World War II.” (RADM Julius A. Furer, USN (Retd.), The Administration of the Navy Department during World War II, U. S. Naval Historical Center, 1959, p.166)

According to RADM Furer, “the Sub-Chief of Naval Operations (then Op-02) was ex officio the senior member of the SCB. Other members were one each designated for additional duty on the Board by Cominch [CNO], the DCNO(Air), the Director Electronics Division, and the Chiefs of the Bureaus of Naval Personnel, Ordnance, Ships, and Aeronautics. The Assistant Director, Fleet Maintenance Division, for Ships Characteristics, was the Executive member of the Board.” (Furer, p.166) RADM Furer provided the following appraisal of the SCB: “A senior Captain as recorder and three Commanders as assistants were assigned to the Board on full-time duty. They evaluated the characteristics proposed by the Bureaus for new ships, their armament and equipment, and of changes in characteristics proposed for existing ships. Members of the Board representing the Bureaus were called upon at meetings of the Board to justify or criticize the characteristics proposed. Action was taken by majority vote of the members, all having an equal vote whether or not they had any responsibility or interest in the features under consideration. “There were advantages as well as disadvantages in reaching decisions on ships characteristics by a board of this kind as compared to the General Board procedure. The permanent staff of the SCB who did the evaluating work and the members who made the decisions represented a younger point of view and more recent acquaintance with details than did the General Board, but the latter’s judgments were more mature and its members were not so easily swayed by the whims of the moment. Pressure from the outside also had less effect on the General Board, as its members were older officers who had achieved successful careers in the Navy and were nearing retirement. The careers of the Captains and Commanders on full-time duty with the Board will still in the making. Such officers were, therefore, more susceptible to pressure from the upper hierarchy in the Navy Department than the officers on the General Board. “In the opinion of many, a serious fault of the Ship Characteristics Board was that members with no interest or responsibility for matters under consideration had the same vote in making decisions as members who were definitely interested and who had the responsibility for carrying out the decisions of the Board.” (Furer, pp.166-167)

The SCB held its first meeting on 26 March 1945. Many of the actions taken in the organization’s first few months dealt with developing quick responses to the Japanese Kamikaze threat. The SCB grew in importance through its management of the annual shipbuilding program requests during the 1950s and 1960s. The Board oversaw the design process and assigned designations for designs approved for development, some of which were not built. Thus, SCB-6A was the design for the new heavy aircraft carrier United States (CVB-58, canceled 1949) and SCB-155 was the Charles F. Adams (DDG-2) class guided missile destroyer, for example. The SCB issued numerous memoranda recording its recommendations and subsequent Navy Department decisions.

The SCB’s importance declined during the 1960s. According to one observer, “with the introduction of the concept formulation and contract definition [CF/CD, directed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD)] approach to naval ship acquisition in the mid-1960s (LHA, DD963), the decline in new ship starts which occurred during the Vietnam War, and OPNAV and NAVMAT organizational changes, the SCB fell into disuse and was replaced by other organizations and processes.” (Stuart Williams, “The Ship Characteristics and Improvement Board: A Status Report” in Naval Engineers Journal Vol.96 No.3 (May 1984), pp.39-46), p.42.

The SCB was succeeded by the Ship Acquisition and Improvement Council (SAIC), which only lasted from 1970 to 1973. VADM Frank H. Price, Jr., served as director of this division (Op-97) during this time. Unlike the early years of the SCB, this office was oriented toward dealing not only with internal Navy planning but also with agencies outside the Navy, such as the Secretary of Defense’s Systems Analysis office, which raised issues with certain Navy plans for consideration by the defense department’s civilian leadership. The SAIC was disestablished, however, and replaced by the Ship Acquisition and Improvement Panel (SAIP) (1973-1982), which in turn was followed by the Ship Characteristics and Improvement Board (1982-ca.1990), both of which were focused more upon coordination of Navy offices and agencies in support of shipbuilding program management than ship design.

[In subsequent correspondence Mr. Wright stated that "The devolution of the SAIC was apparently a sequential process. SAIC had been an Op-03 entity, but in August 1972 the so-called SAI Division was transferred to Op-090 Navy Program Planning. That Directorate--Op-97--then was abolished in June 1974, attributed (indirectly) to overall staff reductions ordered by SecDef." Note that the directive establishing the system of Top Level Requirements (TLR) documents was issued on 4 January 1974, although references to the SAIP continued to appear at least into 1976.]

Unfortunately, the U. S. Navy records at the National Archives don’t include any SCB office files as such. One collection largely was destroyed at Navy direction, as follows. (FRC = Federal Records Center)
FRC Accession NumberContentStatus
62A2300Shipbuilding Program.Destroyed October 1975 at FRC
62A2329Memoranda, including Approved Characteristics.Destroyed October 1975 at FRC
62A2369UnknownDestroyed October 1975 at FRC
65A4538Class Improvement Programs, three (or five) FRC cartons at FRC as of late 1977 with note “needs appraisal”Current status unknown
65A5541Miscellaneous papersCurrent status unknown
66A5223Content unknown, five boxes.Destroyed April 1976

SCB memoranda were circulated widely among OpNav and material bureau offices, however, and copies of individual memoranda often can be found in many specific subject files in various record groups. The National Archives Bureau of Aeronautics holdings, Record Group 72, includes, for example, three boxes containing what may be a complete set of SCM memoranda for the years 1953-54 (Undescribed Entry 140.)

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