U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has revealed new details about extremely ambitious plans to increase the size of the U.S. Navy's fleets to more than 500 ships and submarines, including unmanned types, within the next 25 years. He also offered some specifics about how the Pentagon hopes to pay for this dramatic increase in force structure, including a significant increase in the Navy's base budget starting as early as the next Fiscal Year.
Esper provided the new information on what is now being called Battle Force 2045 in a virtual talk he gave from the offices of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) think tank in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 2020. Some details about the Navy's future force structure and shipbuilding plans had already emerged in September, which you can read about in more detail in this recent War Zone piece.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has been working for months to help shape the plans for the Navy's force structure in the decades to come. OSD's Battle Force 2045 proposal incorporates recommendations from studies that the Pentagons Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Hudson Institute think tank conducted. A full look at the plan is expected to be publicly released next Spring as part of the formal 2022 Fiscal Year defense budget request.
As of early 2020, the Navy had around 293 ships. There is also a Congressionally mandated goal of a fleet with at least 355 ships. However, Esper has now said that the Battle Force 2045 structure will call for a total naval force with more than 500 ships, including between eight and 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, 60 to 70 small surface combatants, 70 and 80 attack submarines, 50 to 60 amphibious warfare ships, and 70 to 90 logistics ships. This is broadly in line with draft proposals from CAPE and the Hudson Institute.
Both of those studies described a Navy with nine aircraft carriers. The force structures CAPE and Hudson included 70 and 56 small surface combatants, respectively, and both called for an increase in the size of the service's submarine force, which presently has 55 boats, in total. Those proposals also called for between 15 and 19 traditional amphibious warfare ships, such as amphibious assault ships and dock landing ships, and 20 to 26 of a new class of Light Amphibious Warships (LAW) that the Navy and Marine Corps are already exploring. These studies included significant increases in logistics and other support vessels, as well.
The carrier figures are particularly interesting given that the Navy has 11 flattops right now the 10 Nimitz class ships and the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford and anything less would represent a cut in the total number of these vessels. Congress has also stipulated that the service always be working toward having at least 12 operational carriers.
The Nimitz class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, at rear, sails with the first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford, in the foreground.
Esper added that the Navy would "continue to examine options for light carriers that support short-takeoff or vertical landing aircraft" and that the service could ultimately up to six such ships, which could be based on the aviation-focused America class amphibious assault ship design. This is notable given that the Navy had publicly said that it had deferred a study of light carrier concepts indefinitely in May. This could also simply involve using the existing Americas, as well as other amphibious assault ships, as small "Lightning Carriers" with larger than average compliments of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighters, a concept the Navy and Marines have already been exploring.
The Secretary of Defense did not offer details about what might be included in the "small surface combatant" category, but presently the Navy's only ships meeting this description are the Freedom and Independence classes of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). The service is working to acquire a new class of guided-missile frigates, presently referred to as FFG(X), which will be based on from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri's European Multi-Purpose Frigate design, also commonly referred to simply by the Franco-Italian acronym FREMM.
The USS Freedom, at rear, and the USS Independence, the lead ships of the two LCS subclasses.
When it comes to submarines, Esper said that the increase in the total number of boats will come from extending the life of seven Los Angeles class attack submarines by refueling their nuclear reactors, as well as the development of a new type of advanced attack submarine, known presently as the SSN(X). The Navy has said that it is looking to acquiring something akin to the advanced Seawolf class design under this latter program.
In addition, the Secretary of Defense reiterated the service's previously established goal of increasing production of the more multi-mission-focused Virginia class attack submarine from two boats per year to three. If we do nothing else, the Navy must begin building three Virginia class submarines a year as soon as possible," Esper said.
The Virginia class attack submarine USS Minnesota while under construction.
These increases in traditional vessels offer a "credible path" to the 355 ship goal, according to Esper. However, to get the total size of the Battle Force up to over 500 will require the inclusion of between 140 and 240 unmanned surface and undersea vehicles in that total, something the Navy does not presently do. The growing importance of unmanned platforms to the service's future plans, which you can read about in these previous War Zone pieces, has already prompted calls from the White House's Office of Management and Budget to add them to the official fleet totals for both current accounting and future planning purposes.
To make all this work, Esper said that the plan is to increase the percentage of the Navy's overall budget set aside for shipbuilding to 13 percent. In the 2020 Fiscal Year, the money for ships accounted for just over 11.5 percent of the service's approved budget from Congress. This dropped to less than 10 percent in the Navy's 2021 Fiscal Year budget request. Legislators have yet to pass a budget for this fiscal cycle, which began on Oct. 1.
A summary of the Navy's approved budget for the 2020 Fiscal Year compared to its request for the 2021 Fiscal Year.
This 13 percent figure had first emerged last month in a print version of a speech Esper gave at the Rand think tank. However, the actual speech did not include this figure, raising questions about whether or not it was accurate. As Defense Newsreported at the time, even a two percent increase in shipbuilding funds over the 2021 Fiscal Year budget request would translate to more than $4 billion extra dollars to buy more ships.
In his latest remarks on this topic from CSBA's offices, Esper also called on Congress to approve getting rid of older ships and to grant the Pentagon authority to transfer unused funds straight to shipbuilding accounts without the need for specific authorization. He also issued an appeal to legislators to pass the 2021 Fiscal Year budget without delay and avoid relying on short-term spending bills, commonly known as Continuing Resolutions, which make long-term planning difficult.
As was the case after the initial details about the Navy's future plans for a fleet of more than 500 ships first emerged, it remains very much to be seen whether this proposal will become a reality. Congress has been notably reticent to the idea of including unmanned platforms in the Battle Force totals, or even just building them at all, and routinely resists proposals to retire existing warships, or otherwise trim back their expected service life, to free up funds to buy newer ones. With this in mind, extending the life of existing warships had been part of the Navy's plans to reach the existing 355-ship goal as recently as last year.
Available shipyard capacity to build new ships and submarines, as well as maintain a growing fleet, remains very much an issue, as well. The shift from building one Virginia class submarine each year to two notably caused strain on the yards where those boats are built, at least initially, raising questions about what might happen when production increases to three annually. Those are also the same yards that will also be needed to construct the Navy's future Columbia class ballistic missile submarines.
An artist's conception of the future first-in-class USS Columbia.
If nothing else, there is also a basic cost question. Esper indicated that at least some of the increased shipbuilding funds could come from savings the Pentagon has found elsewhere in the budget, but again canceling or scaling back other projects or retiring older weapon systems across the U.S. military will require the consent of Congress.
In addition, there's no guarantee, especially in the midst of a major recession in the United States and global economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that defense spending will continue to rise in a way that will support a major increase in the size of the Navy's Battle Force. In fact, there's evidence already that it could well be headed in the opposite direction.
Sustaining such a naval force will require major additional funding, as well. One estimate from the Congressional Budget Office regarding a plan the Navy released last year to reach a 355-ship fleet pegged the annual cost of just operating and maintaining all of those vessels at $40 billion. For context, the Navy's total "O&M" budget for the 2020 Fiscal Year was $68 billion and the portion set aside specifically for ship operations was $19.7 billion.
All told, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Navy seem to be intent on setting a goal of having a total fleet with more than 500 ships in the coming decades. However, from everything we know so far, there are serious hurdles they will need to overcome first in getting anywhere near to realizing their vision.
Contact the author: email@example.com
- New consumers driven to the RVing lifestyle fuel solid growth for Winnebago - Minneapolis Star Tribune - October 24th, 2020
- Governor Abbott named Best Governor in the Nation by ALEC, conservative economists - KXXV News Channel 25 - October 24th, 2020
- Freedom Healthcare Staffing Wins Denver Business Journal Fast 50 Award - PRNewswire - October 24th, 2020
- Lawmakers need to get federal funding to ease MBTA woes - Boston Herald - October 24th, 2020
- Classes to resume soon for final-years at state universities - University World News - October 24th, 2020
- Last Week in Slovenia: 16-22 October, 2020 - Total Slovenia News - October 24th, 2020
- Where They Stand: John Jacob - Daily Journal - October 24th, 2020
- Rep. Cynthia Lummis Speaks to Voters in Thermopolis | - mybighornbasin - October 24th, 2020
- Letters to the editor - News - The Hutchinson News - October 24th, 2020
- Taxpayer Tricks and Treats for Halloween 2020 - Business Wire - October 24th, 2020
- Parliament body: Freedom Fighters' monthly honorarium to be raised to Tk20,000 from Tk12,000 - Dhaka Tribune - October 24th, 2020
- Corporate Consultants Set Their Targets on American Universities - The Nation - October 24th, 2020
- Boebert incapable of being an independent voice negotiating on our behalf - The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel - October 8th, 2020
- How USAID Translates The Executive Order On Advancing International Religious Freedom Into Action - Forbes - October 8th, 2020
- The Case Against Trump: Donald Trump Is an Enemy of Freedom - Reason - October 8th, 2020
- D.R. Horton, Inc. to Release 2020 Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year-End Earnings on November 10, 2020 - Business Wire - October 8th, 2020
- Inslee, Culp meet in first and only governor's debate - Thehour.com - October 8th, 2020
- Civil society raises alarm about IMF's continued backing of austerity amidst pandemic - Bretton Woods Observer - October 8th, 2020
- NCC to invite experts to CtiTV News hearing - - October 8th, 2020
- Candidates want to represent district in Statehouse - The Herald - October 8th, 2020
- The Toss-up: Virginia's 7th Congressional District race may be one of the nation's closest - Chesterfield Observer - October 8th, 2020
- Waukon City Council hears restaurant proposal for former JCPenney/Tierney's building, leaves trick-or-treat participation decision this year up to... - October 8th, 2020
- Abbotsford West candidates spar on Highway 1, light rail, housing and snap election - Abbotsford News - October 8th, 2020
- Noem urges legislators to carefully follow US Treasury guidelines while deciding how to spend a portion of the state's Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars... - October 8th, 2020
- The Social Cost Of COVID-19 - The ASEAN Post - September 8th, 2020
- Stalwarts who founded and built the UNP must be turning in their graves - NewsIn.Asia - September 8th, 2020
- 2020 could be the year of 'peak Democrat' in Colorado. This is why. - Colorado Springs Gazette - September 8th, 2020
- Trump and the RNC should remind Cuban voters of Fidel Castro, not their political home - NBC News - August 31st, 2020
- Analysis: Will Uzbekistan's Champion of Reform Stay the Course? - Voice of America - August 31st, 2020
- It's Never Been More Clear: Fare Hikes Won't Save the MBTA - Boston magazine - August 31st, 2020
- Libertarians Took Control of This Small Town. It Didn't End Well. - Washington Monthly - August 31st, 2020
- Point-Counterpoint: Benefits will outweigh the consequences for college football this fall - University of Pittsburgh The Pitt News - August 31st, 2020
- Fact-checking the first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention - Poynter - August 31st, 2020
- Moody's: Coronavirus is accelerating shift to online education - Education Dive - August 31st, 2020
- Corbella: Facts and fairness show public sector workers should have their pay cut - Calgary Herald - August 31st, 2020
- Fred Perpall, CEO of The Beck Group, says Blacks and whites need to be more inclusive - The Dallas Morning News - August 31st, 2020
- Could On-Campus Housing At Local Universities Lead To COVID-19 Outbreaks? - NBC San Diego - August 31st, 2020
- Explained: What to look for in GDP data today - The Indian Express - August 31st, 2020
- 35th District Race Brings Three Options to Clinton, Killingworth, and Westbrook - Zip06.com - August 31st, 2020
- Beware the Chinese Economy Recovery Trap - JAPAN Forward - August 31st, 2020
- At RNC, here's what Trump, Republicans have to say our country and economy if they want to win - Fox Business - August 31st, 2020
- When we went to remote learning I could feel every teacher's eyes on me - Sydney Morning Herald - August 31st, 2020
- Bad bank not only necessary but unavoidable in present situation: Subbarao - THE WEEK - August 31st, 2020
- MORSE denies allegations of INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR State REOPENING is on PAUSE Senate race gets NEGATIVE - Politico - August 10th, 2020
- Austerity: Another officer retires, rehired by Odisha government - The New Indian Express - August 10th, 2020
- Media Training Workshop on Using the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act for Investigative Reports on Campaign Fi - The Nigerian Voice - August 10th, 2020
- Detainees concerned for well-being as COVID-19 cases rise in crowded Hays County Jail - Community Impact Newspaper - August 10th, 2020
- The Endowment is Not the Issue - Harvard Political Review - August 10th, 2020
- DAILY VOICE: Four reasons why IT stocks are hitting 52-week highs - Moneycontrol.com - August 10th, 2020
- Kashmiris Lament the Loss of Their Youth - Foreign Policy - August 10th, 2020
- SLPP has creatively disrupted politics; now it has to do the same to the economy - ft.lk - August 10th, 2020
- More freedom to banks, further rate cut not ruled out: 10 key takeaways from policy meet - Economic Times - August 9th, 2020
- In HBO film, Ken Buck suggests he will leave Congress soon - The Denver Post - August 9th, 2020
- Biden's Climate Plan Would Put Us on the Road to Serfdom - The Heartland Institute - August 9th, 2020
- Krishi Kalyan & Cashew India App: Farmers Breathe Sigh of Relief As Government Aims To Revive Indian Agro Industry - The Indian Wire - August 9th, 2020
- How Attacks on Faith, Family, and Conscience Threaten All Our Freedoms - Daily Signal - August 8th, 2020
- Military Alliances, Partnerships Strengthened Through Defense Strategy Execution - Department of Defense - August 8th, 2020
- @theMarket: The Economy Versus the Stock Market - iBerkshires.com - August 8th, 2020
- UK housing is on the agenda. How do we really build back better? - Big Issue - August 8th, 2020
- Letter: You'd think police would have better things to do than silence street musicians - Seacoastonline.com - August 5th, 2020
- Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Fiscal Year 2021 State Department Budget Request - US Embassy in... - August 5th, 2020
- Brcko District to improve the Fiscal Discipline and Transparency of Expenditure of Public Funds - Sarajevo Times - August 5th, 2020
- How to find a pubmedia job in a pandemic - Current - August 5th, 2020
- Don't tell the separatists but Alberta is lapping up federal aid in record amounts - iPolitics.ca - August 5th, 2020
- Guest opinion: Address to C-SD Class of 2020 - Dorchester Banner - Dorchester Banner - August 5th, 2020
- Making sure the U.S. military remains the best in the world - Brookings Register - August 5th, 2020
- Mailbag: 'Choose life and success' over COVID-19 - Los Angeles Times - August 5th, 2020
- With Trump reelection uncertain, GOP battles over its future - Los Angeles Times - August 4th, 2020
- Leading the Way on Higher Education Reform through Smart Giving - Philanthropy Magazine - August 4th, 2020
- Let's be blunt about it: Russ Diamond is a jerk - The Times of Chester County - August 4th, 2020
- College Football Needs to Change. The Pac-12s Players Are Making That Happen. - The Ringer - August 4th, 2020
- Fiscal Freedom - The Heritage Foundation - August 2nd, 2020
- Gen Z GOP wants to build the Republican Party of the future - Boston Herald - August 2nd, 2020
- Rallying cry: 'There is no reason this statue needs to be moved' - messenger-inquirer - August 2nd, 2020
- No Europe Without the Rule of Law by Harold James - Project Syndicate - August 2nd, 2020
- Today's Headlines and Commentary - Lawfare - August 2nd, 2020
- Faculty push back on how colleges are planning for the fall - Education Dive - August 2nd, 2020
- Wheelchair Accessible Vehicles Converters Market 2020 Analysis by Geographical Regions, Type and Application Till 2026 with Top Key Players - Owned - August 2nd, 2020
- New release shows the value of the Union to the nations of the UK - GOV.UK - August 2nd, 2020
- LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: School administration in Middletown is dysfunctional - The Providence Journal - August 1st, 2020