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
’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 China 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. US
Our lack of professional leadership is paving the path to defeat. We’re making
’s job easier. China
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,
(3)Politico website, “New 30-year shipbuilding plan falls short of Navy goal”, Austin Wright,
(4)Defense News website, “US Navy’s New Fleet Goal: 355 Ships”, Christopher Cavas,