White paper suggests types of ships needed for US Navy ramp up

While it is important for the U.S. Navy to increase the number of ships being built, it is even more important to have the shipbuilders construct the ‘right kinds of ships’, a new Senate Armed Services Committee white paper has suggested.

A Small Surface Combatant that could begin procurement in 2022 or sooner; smaller, lower cost, conventionally powered aircraft carriers and more missiles and munitions are among the right ingredients that made it into the mix.

The reason why a choice must be made lies is the fact that the U.S. Navy and its shipbuilders simply cannot accelerate production fast enough to build 81 ships by 2022, the report said.

A recent navy assessment backed Donald Trump’s plan for a 350 plus ship navy, putting the number of ships more precisely at 355.

Achieving that number of ships, from the current 274 ships, is unrealistic as the shipbuilding industry and workforce, as well as the Navy’s own personnel, simply cannot grow fast enough to execute this goal.

That is the reason why emphasis should be put on which kinds of ships are to be built first.

President Obama’s current defense plan calls for procuring 41 ships over the next five years. However, with sufficient funding, the Navy could procure 59 ships in this timeframe, including five fast attack submarines, five fleet oilers, three destroyers, two amphibious ships, two afloat forward staging bases, two undersea surveillance ships, two survey ships, two patrol ships, one aircraft carrier, and one new small surface combatant.

The white paper says the navy should be optimized for deterring conflict against increasingly capable great power competitors by seeking to add new capabilities incrementally and make a series of strategic choices.

Increasing and accelerating investment in unmanned and autonomous systems that could enhance current capabilities in certain areas, such as minelaying, surveillance, and offensive strike is one of the suggestions.

The number of submarines being procured should also be increased from two per year to three per year in 2020 and four per year in 2024 if the navy is to retain its advantage in undersea warfare. The report suggests that the U.S. cannot produce more submarines over the next five years even if it wanted.

Another strategic choice would be to curtail the littoral combat ship (LCS) program in 2017, buying only the minimum number of additional ships necessary to serve as a bridge for the industrial base to compete for the next Small Surface Combatant, which could begin procurement in 2022 or sooner. This could accelerate the next Small Surface Combatant by seven years and result in procurement of two additional small combatants by 2030 compared to the current plan.

The navy should also pursue a new “high/low mix” in its aircraft carrier fleet. Traditional nuclear-powered supercarriers remain necessary to deter and defeat near-peer competitors, but other day-to-day missions, such as power projection, sea lane control, close air support, or counterterrorism, can be achieved with a smaller, lower cost, conventionally powered aircraft carrier.

It is suggested that over the next five years, the navy should begin transitioning from large deck amphibious ships into smaller aircraft carriers with the goal of delivering the first such ship in the mid-2030s.

Over the next five years, the Navy should therefore procure 58 additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and 16 additional EA-18G Growlers due to the continued delays to the F-35C. According to the paper, the navy currently has approximately 830 frontline strike fighters. Its projected shortfall will grow from 29 aircraft in 2020 to roughly 111 aircraft in 2030.

The navy is also critically low in munitions for the same reasons as the rest of the force and should increase its munitions inventories, including the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile.

Finally, the paper suggest the navy should develop advanced, long range, air-to-air, anti-surface, and anti-ship missiles, including hypersonic missiles.