Saturday, March 26, 2016

Combat Fleet Count Update

Here is the periodic update on the combat fleet size.  The Navy claims the fleet is growing and is well on its way to 300+ but what are the actual numbers?  Well, previous updates have shown that the combat fleet size is steadily decreasing.

To refresh your memory, the combat fleet is composed of carriers, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, submarines, and amphibious ships (CVN, DDG, CG, FFG, SSN, SSBN, SSGN, LHA, LHD, LPD, and LSD).  Vessels like the JHSV, MCM, PC, hospital ships, LCS (we’ll count them if and when they ever get any combat capability), tugs, salvage ships, and ships whose designation starts with “T” or “A” are not counted as part of the combat fleet.

I’ve also deleted the four idled Ticonderoga class cruisers from the count since they represent a permanent decrease (they’ll only return to the fleet on a one for one replacement for a retiring Tico, according to the Navy).

Here are the updated numbers.

1980  392
1985  421
1990  405
1995  283
2000  243
2005  220
2010  225
2012  210
2014  205
2015  197
2016  191

You can check the fleet size for yourself at .

The combat fleet count continues to decrease and it will only get worse.  Two more Ticonderogas will drop out next year.  The early Burkes will begin retiring soon and budget pressures will probably preclude replacing them on a one for one basis.

Despite this evidence, the Navy still claims to be on track for a 300+ ship fleet. 

I’ll close this post with the same statement I closed the previous Combat Fleet Count update posts:

Compare the Navy’s trend to China’s and ponder the implications for yourself.

I’ll continue to update this from time to time.


  1. Replies
    1. I relinked and it's working for me, now. Give it a try. Thanks for the heads up.

    2. Looks like the Navy likes to count support ships in the "combat number" Something that is very telling, is if you look at the number of boats in the 688 class and compare that to what has followed.

    3. There are various counts depending on what ships are considered. You'll recall that the Navy just recently tried to count patrol boats (PC), hospital ships, etc. and Congress passed legislation prohibiting that practice.

      I've defined my count as combat ships only, as indicated in the post. Using that definition, the trend that I show is consistent in its data and clear in its direction.

  2. If you were to compare tonnage the numbers would be quite different. The Navy scrapped all its smallest ships like the frigates and LSTs, while building larger ships in every class. Anyone have time to do the math?

    1. Ummm, I haven't done the math but I don't think we'd find that the tonnage is greater despite smaller ship numbers which is what I assume you're suggesting.

      For example, we're replacing 71 Perry FFGs at 4200 tons with 52 LCS at 3000 tons - 3500 tons, depending on which version.

      LSTs weren't replaced with anything.

      Yes, the general trend in shipbuilding is bigger ships but it's tough to make up the large drop in numbers with slightly larger ships, even assuming greater tonnage equates to greater capability which, again, is what I assume you're suggesting.

    2. Great. Now every ship we have becomes a Capital/Strategic asset along with the risk averse baggage that comes along with it.

    3. That's the downside of bigger ships - we're reluctant to use them for the very roles they were intended. A relevant example is Germany's battleships. Germany was so afraid of losing them that they didn't use them for their intended purpose and wound up getting very little value out of them even thought the mere threat of their presence wreaked havoc on the Atlantic convoys for a time.

    4. Another example may be Japan and it's Yamato battleships during WWII.

      I'd be worried that the US is unwilling to use the carrier groups especially for that reason. The cost of the carriers, and their planes. Oh and the LCS if it is in the group will likely prove a liability rather than an asset.

    5. It's not just that we're going to be unwilling to use carriers in their intended role because of the risk, it's also that in an effort to reduce that risk we've become a mostly defensive fleet. That's wrong. Navies exist to execute offensive operations. You can't win a war defensively.

      The vast majority of our R&D is going towards defensive systems like new Standard missiles, cooperative engagement, BMD, Flt III Burkes, Tico modernizations (if you believe they'll be modernized!), SEWIP, MAC, ASW, MCM, etc. The only purely offensive weapon system is the LRASM and it's a poor cousin to what already exists among our enemies. Even the F-35 has been downplayed as a strike platform and talked up as a node in a network and an ISR enabler.

      The submarine force is our only serious offensive threat and even there they're retiring the SSGNs with no direct replacement.

  3. You need to add the number of Admirals per year...

    1. I've reported on that from time to time. As I recall, the number steadily rose over the last few decades to a peak of around 320 several years ago and has held steady or dipped slightly since. That still gives us around 30-40 more Admirals than we have ships! Every ship could have an Admiral and many could have two!

  4. So with refits and availability rates we really have a 30-40 ship navy that's combat capable. That's assuming training and maintenance of 1/3 apiece

    Not reassuring

    1. You're also assuming that the ships we have are well maintained and combat ready and, sadly, that's not the case.

    2. Is there an availability report accessible and public?. If so it might be an interesting discussion of fact and reality vs perception using the navies own numbers.

    3. Not really, that I'm aware of. The INSURV inspections have been classified after too many ships failed. Generic readiness indicators include casualty reports, INSURV inspections, and the Navy's formal readiness reporting system. INSURV, as I mentioned, is classified. Casualty reports provide an indication but are only a momentary snapshot rather than a long term indicator of readiness. The formal reporting system is skewed because of the practice of cannibalization and cross-decking which makes a ship seem ready when it's not.

  5. For your reading:

    I'd like to know what the USN's stockpile of ammunition, torpedoes, and the like must be like. Probably not good.

    1. The actual article is pretty poor, which I'll come back to.

      "I'd like to know what the USN's stockpile of ammunition, torpedoes, and the like must be like. Probably not good."
      The USN cant fill all of its vertical launch tubes.
      It literally cant go to war with full magazines, never mind have reloads available, which is truely depressing since most of the weapons it carries it has never fired in anger, or only on extremely rare occasions, which takes us back to point one.

      Precision weapons were never meant to be fired like they are being.
      It was either going to be an all out expenditure for Assault Breaker, or nothing.
      Instead we're firing 650 hellfires a month across a panalopy of theatres, counter drug operations in central america, counter terror in Somalia, counter insurgency in Aghanistan/Iraq and all out war in Yemen.

      Its also not very clear cut either.
      Much as the US likes to complain about its allies weak stocks, it also doesnt like selling them deep stocks.

      If Israel wasnt reliant on Nickel Grass for its future defence, it might have decided to press the third army and annihilate it.
      The 65 Indo-Pak war ended primarily because both sides believed they had ran out of ammunition, neither was wildly thrilled with the idea of accepting the cease fire but felt they had no choice.

    2. Then the whole idea of using precision guided munitions comes into question.

      They cannot be produced in sufficient quantities for a full on nation state style of war and stocks will be depleted in the opening days of combat.

      Actually this is like the all of these gold plated weapons.


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