Will the Navy Find its Way?
I was passed along a really interesting brief from the influential Center for Naval Analysis that says the Navy must radically rethink strategy and force structure or its going to find itself on a slippery slope of fleet decline, a loss of combat power and then the ability to maintain forward presence. Apparently, the brief, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?” has had quite an impact on the folks over at OPNAV.
The gist of CNA’s argument is that the grim federal budget outlook, rising personnel and operations expenses along with skyrocketing costs of building new ships, will all put the squeeze on future shipbuilding. The prospect that the Navy will “get well” in future budgets is a myth. Continuing on the current shipbuilding course of about six or seven ships per year, the battle fleet will steadily decline over the next two decades, going from today’s 286 ships to around 230–240 ships from 2025 and out. The Navy faces the dilemma of maintaining forward presence and meeting maritime security requirements in the face of a shrinking battle fleet, CNA says.
He goes on to detail several options within the CNA report, such as maintaining the fleet we currently have, trying to have some presence in the Gulf and in the Western Pacific. In this option we are strong nowhere and continuing to shrink toward that 200 number. One is to go all out with battleforce types, ignoring the ongoing troubles of the Gulf and deploy only heavy conventional forces in the Pacific. The problem with this line of thinking, is it is so “pre-9/11” and seems to consider that all would be well with the world’s most vital shipping regions and the flow of oil even if we weren’t there.
The more plausible one is to “sacrifice high end ships, such as carriers and Aegis, for building the largest fleet possible with cheaper and smaller ships, such as the LCS, JHSV and corvettes“. This strategy, in my opinion, takes into account the drastic increase in firepower of USN warships since the Cold War, where even in our half-size, shrunken and stretched thin forces, we can say we have the equivalent combat power of 13 other navies combined. This is in conventional firepower mind you, and doesn’t take into account the tyranny of numbers, where such amazing weapons like the Nimitz supercarriers, Burke destroyers, and LPD-17 amphibs are unable to be in more than one place at a time.
A final factor calling for fewer high-end exquisite warships, is their complication and out of control costs. Because they are so few and take so long to build, we also see a steady decline in US shipbuilding capability, and the demise of expertise that will inevitably follow. The smaller, shrunken fleet has a ripple effect through our entire manufacturing community, causing unemployment and unneeded suffering where a bigger fleet geared toward sea control would ensure steady orders and dependable jobs, as well as enhancing our security.