Shrinking Ship Size Vs. A Shrinking Fleet
The US Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget for the next few years is about $13 billion, out of which we might expect 8-12 warships if we are lucky. My ideal budget would see the Navy’s share reduced to $10 billion annually and drop to $8 billion if ship designers fail to reduce the astronomical rise in shipbuilding costs. We are not interested here just in containing costs of warships, but of cutting prices and building ships for less than $1 billion or nothing.
An ideal and affordable price for major combatants like carriers or arsenal ships would run in the hundreds of millions, and no more than $300 million. Since fleet escorts (destroyers, frigates) of necessity should be plentiful, they should cost no more than the tens of millions of dollars each.
Before you scoff at my flight of fantasy, let me reveal how we can get to reducing the price of USN warships without necessarily inhibiting their combat value. In today’s procurement environment, a reduction in price of a nuclear sub from $2.4 billion to $2 billion is hailed as dramatic savings. Recently a $3-$5 billion stealth destroyer was canceled outright in favor of a $1.5 billion older destroyer, whose price we learn will rise to $2 billion.
A cap on warship size should offer immediate and dramatic savings. The vast size that US ships have grown to in recent decades far too often tempt designers with costly add-ons; extra equipment ordered during building that inflates the price and delays service entry. This has been evident in nearly all ships programs in recent years, like the LPD-17 amphibious ships to the supposedly “cost effective” USS Freedom littoral combat ship.
Notice how the size of warships have expanded greatly in the last century:
- Aircraft carriers–1940: 20,000 tons 2000:100,000 tons
- Destroyers–1900:420 tons 2000:9000 tons
- Submarines–1942:1500 tons 2000:7800 tons
Likewise have amphibious warships, first deployed in World War 2 in vast numbers and averaging 1700 tons (LSTs) now equal the size of battleships built in that era, the latestweighing in at 45,000 tons!
Now we think that modern precision weapons and modular type systems like point defense and rapid fire cannon along with unmanned vehicles can multiply the fighting power of the small warship. With this in mind our future fleet composition might look like this:
- Motherships(UAV or missile carrier)-20,000 tons
- Destroyers-2500 tons
- Escort ships(corvettes, FACs, or patrol vessels)-1500 tons or less
- Nuclear attack subs-2500 tons
- Conventional Littoral submarines-1500 tons
#Small point defense missiles like Sea Ram could replace large Aegis radar and its necessary long range intercept missiles, as well as rapid-fire guns like CIWS.
#Expensive quieting gear now standard on nuclear submarines might be discarded altogether, the warship instead relying on its high underwater speed, maneuverability, and extended reach of cruise missiles to avoid enemy ASW vessels.
#The more self-contained, off-the-shelf weaponry the better. The idea would be to separate the weapons system from the design of the ship as much as possible, creating the same modular concept as in the LCS, but at far less cost.