Thursday, March 23, 2017

Pick A Number, Any Number

The Navy’s latest fleet size target is now 355 ships.

“The Navy needs potentially as much as $150 billion over current budget plans to “jump-start” shipbuilding and get on a trajectory for a 355-ship fleet, the vice chief of naval operations [Adm. Bill Moran] said on Wednesday.” (1)

355????  Wasn’t our goal 305 or thereabouts a month or so ago?  Has our strategy and, therefore, our operational requirements changed in the last month?

As you know (because ComNavOps preaches it relentlessly), force structure and size is intimately tied to strategy which, in turn, determines operational needs which set fleet size.  Without a coherent strategy, you’re just making up arbitrary numbers for fleet size and composition and hoping for the best.  “Hope” is not a strategy or, at least, not a winning one.

So, I guess our strategic and operational needs now dictate 355 ships? … or maybe not.  Apparently, 355 isn’t an exact number.

“I’m not here to argue that 355 or 350 is the right number. I’m here to argue that we need to get on that trajectory as fast as we can. And as time goes on you start to figure out whether that number is still valid – 10 years from now, 20 years from now 355 may not be the number,” Moran said today at the annual McAleese/Credit Suisse “Defense Programs” event.” (1)

“As time goes on”??????  As time goes on you’ll figure out whether your fleet size number is valid?  This is the best our professional naval warriors can come up with?

So, apparently 350 is an okay number, too.  Presumably 360 would be okay.  Or, maybe 345 or 365.  I’m getting a sense that the latest fleet size target might not be tied to a strategy and operational requirements.  In fact, I’m getting the sense that the Navy has no strategy and doesn’t care what size the fleet is.  I’m getting the sense that all the Navy cares about is more budget.

The exact size of the future fleet doesn’t matter right now, but rather the Navy just needs to start boosting its investment in shipbuilding quickly – which means buying many more Virginia-class attack submarines, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ford-class aircraft carriers in the next few years, he said.

“Our number, give or take, to get to 355, or just to get started in the first seven years, is $150 billion. That’s a lot of money.” [emphasis added] (1)

So, the Navy’s position is that the actual fleet size number doesn’t matter as long as they can get more money.

Let’s take a pause and look back at the various fleet sizes that have been targeted in recent years.

President Reagan targeted a 600 ship fleet in the 1980’s against the backdrop of countering the Soviet Union.  That, at least, was tied to a Cold War strategy, however tenuously.

Remember the 1000 ship fleet?

"The 1,000-ship navy is a fleet-in-being of nations willing to participate in global maritime partnerships. “ (2)

To be fair, the 1000 ships were not all US Navy ships.

More recent fleet size targets have been in the 303/305/308 range.

“The Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan projects a fleet of 292 ships in 2046 — a fleet that is short of the service’s 308-ship goal …” (3)

Recent Navy 30 year shipbuilding plans have targeted fleet sizes anywhere in the low to mid 300’s, depending on what plan and what year.

For the last few years, our fleet size target has been around 280 because that’s what we’ve been at and no Navy leader has objected.  Therefore, with no objections, that fleet size must be meeting our needs.  In fact, Navy leadership has stressed that our fleet is fully capable of meeting requirements.

Now, we see a sudden change to a fleet size of 355 ships.

“Tossing overboard the budget constraints that have weighed down the US Navy’s attempts to grow its fleet, the world’s most powerful sea service is embarking on the biggest proposed expansion since the early 1980s, upping its goals from today’s 308 ships to a whopping 355 ships – beyond even the incoming Trump administration’s stated 350-ship goal.“ (4)

Has there been a sudden change in strategy that would dictate a change in fleet size?  No.  Our strategy (we don’t actually have one) hasn’t changed.  What, then, has changed?  The only thing that has changed is that the Navy sees an opportunity, with the new Administration, to grab more money.

This is a pure and simple money grab by the Navy.  There is no tie between fleet size and any coherent strategy.  There is no operational need that is tied to any particular fleet size.  This is pure money grubbing.  Forgive me, I’m going to have to pause a moment.  I’m starting to get choked up with pride in my professional Navy.

Okay, I’m back.  Sometimes I just feel so proud of my Navy and the leadership, in particular, that I just have to take a moment to stand up, offer a silent and unseen salute, and recover my emotional equilibrium.  It’s okay, I’m good now. 

Where were we?  Oh yes, we were talking about the link between fleet size and strategy.  Of course, not only are fleet size numbers tied directly to strategy/ops but so is force structure.  The relative numbers of types of ships are a direct function of what the strategy/ops call for.  Do you need more carriers or less?  More subs or less?  And so on.  Well, it depends on what the strategy/ops call for.  So, what does the Navy think about the careful force structure balance?

“We definitely wanted to go after SSNs, DDGs and carriers … So the numbers I will give to you are reflective of those three priorities, because those are the big impacters in any competition at sea,” he told USNI News.

“Amphibs come later, but I’m talking about initial, what are we building that we can stamp out that are good. We know how to build Virginia-class, we know how to build DDGs.” (1)

Rather than design and build ships that match the strategic and operational requirements, the Navy just wants to “stamp out” ships.  How’s that for professional evaluation of strategic and operational needs and resulting force structure planning?  That’s the mark of a professionally led and professionally competent naval leadership, huh?  I’m starting to get choked up with pride again.  No wait, it’s okay.  I’m alright.   ….  ……..  but the Navy isn’t. 

“Stamping out” ships rather than professionally designing a coherent naval force is how we got to the current state where we have no anti-ship missile, no mine countermeasures capability, almost no offensive mining capability, no viable amphibious assault capability, no naval gun support, etc.  Despite these shortcomings, the Navy is happy because we’ve been able to “stamp out” lots and lots of Burkes.

Aside from the money grubbing aspect of this, the Navy is just floundering around with no strategy, no operational plan, and no vision beyond trying to grab more money.  When war comes, we’ll have a Navy whose ship types and numbers are not matched to the strategic and operational needs.  That’s a recipe for defeat. 

While it’s impossible to know for sure what China’s strategic and operational needs are (although they’re making them pretty clear, as documented repeatedly on this blog), China sure seems to have a pretty clearly defined force structure plan that they’re working towards.  They’re planning to take on the US and are assembling the force to do it.  The US, in contrast, is just building whatever they can and hoping it may prove useful down the road.

Our lack of professional leadership is paving the path to defeat.  We’re making China’s job easier.

What fleet size do we need?  Who knows?  Pick a number, any number.  Your guess is as good as, and quite likely better than, the Navy’s.


(1)USNI News website, “Moran: Navy Needs As Much As $150B Extra to ‘Jump-Start’ Path to 355 Ships; Would Buy Mostly DDGs, SSNs, Carriers”, Megan Eckstein, 22-Mar-2017,

(3)Politico website, “New 30-year shipbuilding plan falls short of Navy goal”, Austin Wright, 05/09/16,

(4)Defense News website, “US Navy’s New Fleet Goal: 355 Ships”, Christopher Cavas, 16-Dec-2016,


  1. "This is a pure and simple money grab by the Navy."

    I appreciate this post. It cost me some dental work, but I appreciate this.

    Back in the early 80's it was my understanding, from what I've read, that Lehman came up with a strategy for countering the Soviet Union, and then ship building and force structure was created around that. This is why some ships that might have been retired were kept longer; and why we had more of an emphasis on ASW with the Spruance and FFG 7 class, not to mention the pre-existing Knox class, etc.

    We ended up with capable ships that fit what we wanted to do.

    I'm honestly against spending more money on the Navy till the Navy comes up with a strategy for what it wants to do; unless that money is to be spent on maintenance. Otherwise we'll just build more 'stuff' and that will both give us a mis-matched fleet, but weaken the Navy's argument for construction in the future because 'We gave you more money and your ships aren't doing what we want'.

    "our fleet size target has been around 280 because that’s what we’ve been at and no Navy leader has objected. "

    This really burns me.

    I'm hearing more and more about how the Navy has deferred maintenance in ships and aircraft, and how this is costing us now.

    We now have a pattern of the flag officers saying to the politicians FOR YEARS that they'll do whatever; and grinding the fleet to rust. Why? The only thing I can surmise is that they wanted to be politically correct. Don't muss the President's feathers. Don't anger Congress. If you say no both might get angry and you'll lose budget.

    Because at least from what I, as a civilian can see, there is a huge dissonance from what the Admirals were saying in terms of being able to perform missions and what they were saying in terms of what they needed for ship maintenance. Why didn't someone say STOP!. We CAN'T keep deploying. We CAN'T keep burning hours on SH's. Not and keep a credible fleet.


  2. Forgetting Strategy for a moment, because you hit htat nail right on the head.

    What do the Gen/Adms learn at Flag school about Economics? Do they take only take an "ECON I WANT IT" course?

  3. It sounds like the worst kind of mid level managers. Don't tell upper management 'no' and grind what you have to bits trying to match inflated expectations.

    Without a strategy, it's quite possible it will never be enough ships. Because the more ships we have the more crap they'll find to do. You can't say 'X amount fits the strategy so build to that, size the industrial base to that'. You just say 'more!'

  4. He means the Ford Class LPHs. They still haven't solved the decade old problems with new launch and recovery systems, and the second in the class is now 50% complete!

  5. Not that long ago, not sure what was the topic on CNO but I said that I was OK with Navy only building Burkes and Virginia's since it appeared USN wasn't capable of fielding anything anytime soon with any sort of combat capability,wow,it looks like USN has come to the same conclusion! There's no policy or statement of what is really needed as CNO clearly explains, I don't see anything coming from USN that would indict otherwise, they just want to get as much money as possible from Congress/White House and those are the 2 weapon systems that actually kind of work so let's buy more of them! Sounds like that's what the best the USN could come up with....

    BTW, why isn't Congress/Senate asking some questions about these numbers?!?

    1. "USN ... just want to get as much money as possible from Congress/White House and those are the 2 weapon systems that actually kind of work so let's buy more of them!"

      The Navy just wants more money. The choice of more Burkes and Virginias is slightly more involved than just the fact that we know how to make them. The key is that they've already been through the approval process. New ships (new designs) would require new approvals and testing and milestones and such. The Navy wants to get hulls (not even finished, combat ready ones anymore!) into the water as fast as possible to avoid Congress asking questions and changing their minds. So, the Navy opts to go with already approved and tested Burkes and Virginias. This is also why the Navy chose the LCS as the new "frigate" and the LPD-17 as the LX(R) - not because they were good designs (they aren't!) but because they've already been approved.

  6. Good post. I got nothin, except I think we need a lot of SSNs for China.

  7. When Lehman came up with that plan we already had a lot of successful irons in the fire post Vietnam- Spruance, Nimitz, Perry, LA class programs in production. At the time 600 was a good Cold War number, a defeat the USSR number--- I think we reached 530. As a result we defeated the USSR and communism...

    I would say all the "cerebral thought" here given to what size, totals, etc is actually sort of secondary to buying what works and is in production (Burke,VA class) or what is critical (Ford). Dudes like Moran weren't saying this 6 months ago....and not 2 years ago, either...

    Comnav- Is that progress?


    1. "Is that progress?"

      You read the blog. You probably know my answer. What's your answer? Is this progress?

    2. I'm as cynical as you re Naval leadership but having a budget (maybe?) with something to spend the money on (ships in production) is better than it was in the reality of a year ago...with same/same as past 8 looming..

      To answer your question. Yes, a tiny bit of "progress" is possible. However, there aren't any Mahans, Lehmans or Teddy Roosevelts around when you need 'em. Not sure Mattis is a naval gut feel again is- no. Hiring from within isn't possible because the culture of the recent past hasn't trained anybody to think this big. They are victims of their own boxed limitations and the results are reflected in their lousy acquisition record. I always knew my generation of baby boomers would be in trouble as soon as the WW2 gen started dying off and dudes like Clinton came on line leading to the past 8 years of stasis at best.... However, even I never thought it would be this bad....

  8. There is a strategy. Make the defense industry rich.

    I've repeatedly called for a state owned defense industry to compete or perhaps even nationalizing the whole thing because of this gross mismanagement.

    1. The problem is that the "gross mismanagement" is within the military in the form of horribly mismanaged projects, lack of clearly defined design features, a failed NAVSEA/INSURV, etc. The defense industry is not unilaterally making themselves rich. The military is making them rich by happily and willingly going along with them. Unfortunately, none of that will change with govt owned industries. It will simply be redirected towards the govt organization rather than private organization. The mismanagement isn't suddenly going to improve just because the manufacturer is owned by the govt instead of private companies. We'll just wind up with govt owned industries that are run like the VA hospitals!

  9. CNO,

    Its funny, we're now on our, what, Third Iraqi War in the span of a generation.

    Maybe the Iraqi War(s) are to the Army as the Burke's & Virginia's are to the Navy.

    No one t'all can articulate how they fit into the strategic goals of the nation, but they sure result in a lot of $$$-flow to the contractors and they don't cause enough domestic damage for people to pay attention.

    We can always use another one.


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