Future Naval Force Study 2020
In 2020 the Navy didn't prepare the legally required annual 30-year shipbuilding plan. The size and composition of the Navy was no longer in the Navy's control -- it is a debate between the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the White House and Congress. No military branch has gotten such high level direction on its force structure since the mid-20th Century [the time of the Admiral's Revolt and the MacNamara Revolution].
The the 355-ship fleet was codified in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Public Law 115–91) as an essential part of the National Defense Strategy and its emphasis on near-peer competitors such as Russia and China. As the Navy continues to develop the Integrated Naval Force Structure and 30 Year Shipbuilding plan, there has been increasing discussion, including from the Department of the Navy, whether unmanned vessels should be included in the Department’s ship counting methodology. Recognizing both the growing promise of unmanned vessels and the important roles played by existing battle force inventory ships, the Secretary of the Navy should examine the intrinsic warfighting capabilities of vessels when considering its future ship counting methodology.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that in early 2020, he asked the deputy secretary of defense to lead a Future Naval Force Study tasked with assessing a wider and more ambitious range of future fleet options. The Navy, Marine Corps, Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense and outside advisors conducted a comprehensive, cost and threat-informed review and analysis, he said. First, they examined the current fleet. Second, they explored future force options needed to retain dominance in 2045 given China's likely modernization plans. And, third, they war-gamed these options, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each combination of ships against different future mission sets, Esper said.
In September 2020, Esper said he met with those involved in this study to discuss their findings. "The results are a game-changer that reflect a good deal of serious work and effort based on facts and data. This study will serve as our guidepost as we decide on, program and build our future fleet and conduct follow-on assessments in select areas," he said.
"I want to make clear that China cannot match the United States when it comes to naval power. Even if we stopped building new ships, it would take the PRC [People's Republic of China] years to close the gap when it comes to our capability on the high seas," Esper said 20 September 2020. "Nonetheless, we must stay ahead. We must retain our overmatch. And, we will keep building modern ships to ensure we remain the world's greatest Navy," he said.
In September 2020 Defense Secretary Mark Esper discussed efforts to come up with a plan to build a Navy of 355 manned ships and add another 140-240 unmanned ships and submarines. This plan was not complete, had not been approved by the White House (which had a keen interest in the Navy's fleet size), and will run aground in Congress.
on 17 September 2020 a Sailor asked Esper if aircraft carriers will continue to play a central role in the Navy or go the way of battleships, which are no longer in the fleet. The secretary assured the Sailors that carriers will not be going away and will continue to play a pivotal part in defense strategy. “We have the most advanced aircraft carriers in the world, and we have more of them than anybody else, and we will continue to maintain that overmatch." A more balanced force, he noted, will include surface, subsurface and air unmanned vehicles. "Unmanned will enable us to grow the United States Navy well beyond 355 ships. It will add more lethality, survivability and capability."
In the absence of a 30 Year Shipbuilding Plan, Future Naval Force Study, and Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, the only available shipbuilding forecast available for review is the Future Years’ Defense Plan accompanying the fiscal year 2021 request. The Future Years’ Defense Plan forecasts construction of 3 additional amphibious warships, including an America-class LHA amphibious assault ship and 2 San Antonio-class LPD Flight II vessels.
The President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget does not forecast funding for any new surface shipbuilding programs throughout the Future Years’ Defense Plan (FYDP). The DDG–51 Flight III design is effectively complete and that the ship will continue its procurement throughout the FYDP, with a potential additional multiyear procurement for DDG Flight III beginning in fiscal year 2023.
Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist told a virtual audience at the annual Defense News Conference 10 September 2020: “Earlier this year the secretary asked me to lead a future naval forces study,” Norquist said. "With participation by the Navy, Marine Corps, Joint Staff, OSD [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] and outside advisers, we built three different future fleets. We examined ships and Marine units we have, and those we might build in 2045. We looked at their cost and analytical capabilities, and we war gamed different combinations of ships and maritime forces against different future missions and challenges."
The U.S. Navy will need more than 500 ships to ensure maritime superiority over China, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said 06 October 2020, a conclusion that emerged from the Future Naval Force Study led by Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist. “The Chinese Communist Party … intends to complete the modernization of its armed forces by 2035 and to field a world-class military by 2049,” Esper said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. “At that time, Beijing wants to achieve parity with the United States Navy, if not exceed our capabilities in certain areas and to offset our overmatch in several others.”
The Navy needs 70 to 80 attack submarines, Esper added. “If we do nothing else, the Navy must begin building three Virginia-class submarines a year as soon as possible,” he said.
The USS America large-deck amphibious warship is an example of the kind of platform being looked at for light carrier duties with the F-35B joint strike fighter. “Light carriers provide additional presence and capacity to carry out day-to-day missions and free up super carriers for more critical high-end fights,” Esper said. “While we anticipate that additional study will be required to assess the proper high/low mix of carriers, eight to 11 nuclear-powered carriers will be necessary to execute a high-end conflict and maintain our global presence with up to six light carriers joining them.”
The Navy also needs and additional 60 to 70 smaller surface combatants to free up larger assets to perform other missions. Additionally, initial estimates call for 70 to 90 combat logistics ships, and 50 to 60 amphibious warfare ships.
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