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Work’s Navy Plan Needs More Work

February 23, 2009

As promised, here is our review of “The US Navy: Charting a Course for Tomorrow’s Fleet”  by Robert Work at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The summary below is via DoD Buzz:

• Immediately reduce SSBN fleet to 12 after completion of Ohio-class mid life cycle refueling. Authorize the next generation SSBN-X no later than FY 2019, and build it in conjunction with the British Royal Navy, which is also looking to recapitalize its strategic deterrent fleet.

• Increase build rate for Virginia-class SSNs to two per year no later than 2011, at an approximate cost of $2.6 billion per boat. Continue to upgrade the Virginia class in successive blocks.

• Convert two Ohio-class SSBNs into SSGNs at mid-life refueling.

• The Virginia class follow on, or SSN-X, should be a SSN/SSGC hybrid.

• Reduce carrier build rate from one every four years to one every five years, saving $565 million a year. Drop the number of active carriers from 11 to 10.

• Increase the carrier’s ability to fight from long range by adding two squadrons of F-35C, one Navy and one Marine, and accelerate development of a stealthy long range N-UCAS.

• Build no more than three DDG-1000s.

• Build 11 Arleigh Burkes between 2010 and 2017, first seven to replace the older Ticonderoga class CGs and the next four bring the surface fleet to 88 warships.

• Replace all 88 ships with 80 new modular next-generation Large Battle Network Combatants, a conventionally powered, sub $2.5 billion next generation warship.

• Replace frigates and minesweepers with LCS as planned.

• Instead of building six LCS per year and stopping at 55, build four per year and continue building indefinitely (slowing the build rate will potentially save $1.1 billion a year).

• Size the maneuver fleet to support the landing of two Marine Expeditionary Brigades, which requires 33 ships: 11 LHD/LHSs, 11 LPD-17s and 11 LSDs.

First off, Work admits “$20 billion a year  for shipbuilding may be too optimistic“. So, I’m thinking “Why bother”? Why not offer something constructive, that is affordable and can keep America safe and the sealanes free? The $14 billion or so which the Navy expects annually in the next decade should be plenty to work with if the right hulls geared toward the threats we regularly face are factored in.

He further reveals “the US Navy’s 280-ship feet  likely enjoys no less than a thirteen-navy standard in aggregate feet combat power.” So, why do we need even more battleforce ships which is not designed to match any potential foe but to be stronger than all the world combined and many times over? Even the mighty British Empire in its heyday only maintained a two-power standard for the all-powerful Royal Navy.

Work also tells us “the current battle force is optimized for joint power-projection operations in theaters with accessible ports and land bases against adversaries with weak navies and minimal land-based anti-navy capabilities.” In other words, we have a powerful and costly conventional navy built to fight land powers, but not necessarily equipped for future threats at sea. This is an astounding statement when you consider it. Throughout history sea-going forces have been geared to defeating peer enemies at sea, for example, the US versus Japan, Greece versus Persia, Britain versus practically everybody. But today the USN justifies its giant carriers forces, missiles battleships, amphibious fleets, and submarine forces for a mission historically tasked to inexpensive and expendable littoral forces. For instance, the expeditionary strike role for carriers was once performed in the Pacific Campaign by inexpensive escort carriers converted from merchant ships off the shelf! Today we have convinced ourselves that only 100,000 ton flattops can perform the same function.

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Further proof that the Navy is not geared for war comes from this statement: “The stability of fleet plans suggests that the Navy’s planning process assume capabilities of potential adversaries will remain relatively static over time.”

Mr Work’s plan does have some good points, mainly thinking outside the box on platforms, such as deploying small aircraft carriers (CVE’s) in their traditional amphibious support role, increased production of High Speed Vessels, and substituting the long-range construction of battle force ships for the smaller LCS, but his Navy doesn’t solve the increased cost of Navy vessels due to over-complicated “exquisite ships“. Neither does it take into consideration the possibility that cruise missiles, smart bombs, and hard to detect AIP submarines in the hands of potential foes might threaten the only slightly larger fleet proposed here.

More tomorrow with A Post Surge Navy.

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