We’ve been examining trends, programs, and policies for the last year or so. I think it’s time for some predictions!
The Navy has been in a state of flux for some time with a lack of clear strategic direction, uncertainty about funding, disagreement about weapons and platforms, and so forth. Predicting the shape of the future Navy has been difficult if not impossible. Now, however, the effects of sequestration and separate but on-going budget cuts are settling in, direction is being provided by the Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle concepts, and the definition of the next round of weapons and platforms has become fairly clear and the shape of the future Navy is becoming visible.
It’s also clear that the 30 year shipbuilding plan is pure fantasy. Let’s see if we can visualize a realistic future. Note that this will be a realistic vision but not necessarily a desirable one! That means that this may not be the future I want but, rather, the future I see.
It’s clear, now, that severely restricted budgets are here to stay. There will be no net growth in shipbuilding or total budget for the next decade or more. At best, budgets will hold with adjustments for inflation (though even that isn’t a given!). At the same time, shipbuilding costs will continue to rise on a real basis. Personnel costs will probably continue to rise but very slowly as Congress looks at cutting once sacred salaries and benefits for service people. Research budgets will take steady cuts. The result of the budget challenges is that shipbuilding will be reduced in numbers and acquisition times will be lengthened.
|The Navy of the Future?|
Major ship acquisitions will suffer and construction times will be stretched out. The carrier fleet has already seen construction times stretched from around 4.5 years to 6-7 years. The carrier fleet will drop from the current 11 to around 8.
New construction major units such as destroyers and amphibious vessels will be steadily reduced in numbers. The Ticonderoga Aegis vessels will not be directly replaced in terms of function but will be replaced by a less capable, generic Burke Flt X vessel that will replace both current Burkes and Ticos – a drop in overall capability. Amphibious vessels are experiencing ever increasing real costs, as are all ships, and will be acquired in significantly fewer numbers than currently anticipated especially as the Marine Corp undergoes significant personnel reductions.
Amphibious forces will be hamstrung by a lack of cohesive assault doctrine and ship-to-shore connector craft/vehicles. The Marine’s EFV was cancelled and there is no viable replacement (or even rational need) scheduled. The MV-22 is severely limited in weapons/vehicle lift capability. The Marines are on the verge of losing the ability to conduct a major assault, if they haven’t already, and will not regain it in the foreseeable future.
The Navy shows no sign of abandoning the LCS and every sign of following through on the full 50+ unit acquisition plus the planned follow-on LCS. Combined with decreasing numbers of major combatants, the LCS will come to make up a third to, more likely, half of the future combat fleet.
The SSBN(X) will prove to be vastly more expensive than currently estimated by the Navy (what ship hasn’t?!!) and acquisition numbers will be rationalized and reduced to around 8.
The SSN fleet will, on a relative basis, continue to receive strong support but will still be reduced by around 25% from current levels, probably steadying out at around 40 units.
Our MCM forces are almost non-existent, currently, and will not make much of a come-back. There will be no replacements for the Avenger class, the last dedicated MCM platform. Unless the LCS develops into a world class MCM platform, the Navy will be paralyzed in the face of future mine threats.
I won’t bother commenting on the JSF because you all know how that program is progressing.
Weapons wise, we’ll probably continue to develop the LRASM as Harpoon’s replacement. We have no land attack Tomahawk replacement or serious upgrade in the works that I’m aware of. We have no intermediate range ballistic land attack or surface attack missiles in development that I’m aware of (tell me again why we developed the larger Mk57 peripheral launch cells that were installed on the Zumwalts?). In short, the Navy’s ability to reach out and touch someone is going to be shorter ranged and less explosive than our enemy’s.
As if the preceding weren’t bad enough, we’re witnessing an increasing rate of early ship retirements in an effort to fund new construction. That’s the definition of a death spiral. When the above trends are combined with the accelerated rate of early retirements, the fleet is realistically looking at a force level of around 230 ships within the next 10-20 years. Quite a drop from the 600 ship fleet or even the current 285 ship fleet. Factor in the drop in combat capability due to the LCS making up a third to half the combat fleet and we’re looking at a stunning drop in naval force projection capability.
There you have it … Your future Navy. Not a pretty picture.