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Navy Revising Force Structure Assessment In Light Of Increased Attack Sub, Other Ship Needs

The Virginia-class attack submarine North Dakota (SSN-784) is rolled out of an indoor shipyard facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., in Sept. 2013. US Navy photo.

The Virginia-class attack submarine North Dakota (SSN-784) is rolled out of an indoor shipyard facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., in Sept. 2013. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. –The Navy will reexamine the assumptions behind its 308-ship requirement, as the operational landscape has changed drastically since the previous Force Structure Assessment (FSA).

The Navy released a new FSA in 2012 and amended it in 2014, but Navy leadership and combatant commanders have expressed concern in the past week that previous assumptions about how many surface ships and submarines are needed to counter global threats are proving inapplicable to today’s world. For example, the Navy has a standing requirement for 48 attack submarines, but combatant commanders say they are only receiving about 62 percent of the subs they need to meet growing threats in Asia and Europe.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Friday at a Brookings Institution event that the 48-sub requirement is based off of analysis from 2006.

“Last time we did that (FSA) we really didn’t have to account for a resurgent Russia, we really didn’t have to account for (the Islamic State), so we’re starting again,” he said.
“The strategic landscape has changed sufficiently that we have to constantly reassess.”

Last year the surface navy community expressed concern that a growing missile threat, particularly from China, would require an increase in the large surface combatant fleet above the stated requirement of 88. This year, the focus in congressional hearings and Washington-based events has been on the attack submarine fleet.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at the Brookings event that the Navy would reach its 308-ship requirement by 2021 and that budget decisions being made now would affect the shape and size of the fleet in the years beyond that. Mabus more than doubled shipbuilding in his seven years as secretary compared to the previous seven-year period, and several classes are in serial production today – but with a projected shortfall in the attack submarine fleet, an ongoing shortfall in the amphibious ship fleet, ever-growing demand for ballistic missile defense-capable cruisers and destroyers, and the need for smaller ships to conduct partnership-building activities, the shipbuilding budget has been strained to keep up.

Richardson said at the event that, despite the many needs the Navy has, the service is aggressively looking at ways to build more attack submarines.

“It’s also been pretty well known that even with that 48 (submarine) requirement we’re going to dip below that as the Los Angeles-class submarines come out of the inventory faster than the Virginia-class is coming in. And so managing our way through that trough, if you will, has been a topic that we’ve been watching closely and doing everything we can to mitigate that,” he said.
“That’s becoming a more urgent situation, and so we are examining everything that we can, working closely with the industrial base, with leadership in the department and in Congress, to see that we’re not missing a trick to mitigate that trough.”

During a House Armed Services seapower and projection forces hearing Thursday, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told lawmakers that the Navy is working closely with industry to make the Ohio Replacement Program ballistic missile submarines – a $100 billion program in design now and set to begin construction in 2021 – as affordable as possible so that perhaps the savings generated could be used to buy an additional attack submarine in 2021.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson speaks on maritime military strategy at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C. with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. US Navy photo.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson speaks on maritime military strategy at the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C. with Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller. US Navy photo.

Also discussed at the Brookings event was the amphib shortfall – the Marines have 30 today, with a requirement for 38. Though the Navy and Marine Corps have worked hard to find alternative platforms to put Marines on, global threats are growing faster than the Marines’ ship count.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said at the event that the Marines needed a ship in the Mediterranean, rather than solely cover Europe and Africa with the land-based Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force (SP-MAGTF).

Mentioning the new expeditionary mobile base USNS Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller (T-ESB-3), which is destined for the Middle East when the ship makes its maiden deployment late this year or early next year, Neller said he wanted that ship for his European SP-MAGTF.

“I would like very much for that ship to be based in the Med. Right now that’s not the plan, but we’re going to continue to work on that,” he said.
“The COCOMs, both AFRICOM and EUCOM, have written a letter saying hey we’d like to have this capability in the Med to service West Africa and the Med because there’s stuff going on there that we need to be able to move around. You don’t want to be tied to a land base.”

Mabus agreed, saying “the Lewis B. Puller, that’s an expeditionary seabase, it’s an incredible capability. It carries a lot of stuff and it’s got a flight deck. We need one in the Med, we need one for Africa and for Europe. We’re building two more because we need ones in other parts of the world too.”

Neller said having more amphibs and alternative ships to move Marines around is important because Marines are distributed over great areas and crises can pop up quickly. In Asia in particular, though, Neller said the need for ships is also about self-preservation.

Discussing the growing missile threat in the Pacific, he said “the survivability you mentioned because of the missiles, when we did the (Pacific) laydown and the plan, the capability that our potential adversaries have didn’t exist. So do we need to look at how we’re going to harden ourselves? Do we need to look at where we’re going to position ourselves? Ideally I think you’re much more survivable if you’re moving on a ship, and we’d like to be on a ship, so wherever we end up in the Pacific we have a requirement for mobility.”

  • Matthew Schilling

    I think they are retiring Los Angeles class subs too quickly.

    • Artist in Resonance

      So it seems.

    • James Bowen

      Absolutely. They started retiring them when some of them were fairly new boats in the 1990’s. Never did understand that.

      • EXSSNCO

        They were retired early rather than fund the overhauls as part of adjusting to budget cuts when everyone was demanding a peace dividend when the cold war ended. Having just rolled off a LA class SSN as XO into the pentagon at the time, I was really PO’d….

        • James Bowen

          I don’t blame you. That’s interesting.

  • Curtis Conway

    “Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller said at the event that the Marines needed a ship in the Mediterranean…”.

    The Med is ripe for a new 6th Fleet nucleus of USS America (LHA-6) Large Deck Aviation Platform as the center of an Amphibious Expeditionary Group, particularly using the F-35B. Same argument for the Western Pacific.

    • El_Sid

      The US would be better off saving the $10bn that would need and using a fraction of that sum to bolster allies in the region, the Med is the perfect sandbox for the 1000-ship navy.

      Remove the FMS premium, allow allies to buy at marginal cost rather than getting them to pay R&D costs as well, that kind of thing. Rather than spend $7bn on another four Burkes, redeploy the Rota ones elsewhere and give the cloggies and boxheads some free SM-3 and put a THAADS system at Akrotiri.

      • Curtis Conway

        Aegis Ashore with other things plugged in from time to time? Akrotiri, Sigonella, Rota. Cover the whole Med.

  • James Bowen

    The Navy is way, way too small. Two things need to happen. 1) We need a lot more ships and planes, and we also need high performance platforms along the lines of Seawolf-class submarines and the F-14D Tomcat. 2) We need to adopt more of a defensive strategy for North American and greatly de-emphasize power projection. We have 5% of the world’s population. The idea that we are going to be able to significantly influence events all over the world is unrealistic.

    • Tony4

      If we are de-emphasizing power projection and adopt a selective engagement/offshore balancing strategy as you suggest, why do we need a bigger Navy?

      • James Bowen

        Given that all potential U.S. adversaries are on the other side of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans, such a defensive strategy requires a large Navy. The Navy is the obvious first line of defense (though the Air Force also has an important role here with regard to air defense, missile defense, etc.).

        We still need to be able to inflict decisive defeats on would-be enemies, and be able to do it as far away from the North American mainland as possible. It certainly is not to our advantage to fight a war with China in the South China Sea, but we need to make sure it is certainly not to China’s advantage to fight a war in the Central Pacific or even in Japanese territorial waters.

        Having a large navy optimized for blue-water combat both keeps us safe (by keeping enemies away from North America) and keeps us out of trouble (by de-emphasizing attempts to influence events ashore on the other side of the world).

  • Tony4

    Build as few LCS as possible. Convert LCS-2 hull to ASW escorts, use LCS-1 hull as MCMs and ASUW warships.

    • tpharwell

      Zero would be the limit. I don’t think we can go in to negative territory. But using them as targets might be one way.

  • Mark Burns

    More Warships less Admirals would be a good thing!

  • Jack

    Always thought the Navy retired the Spruance class DDs too quickly even though they were starting to build the new DDGs. The Spruance DDs were great ships and could defend themselves compared to the LCS (Little Crappy Ships) the Navy is building now. They seems to be breaking down to quickly and are not that sea worthy in rough seas.