Fleet Financing

Senior US Navy officer renews call for 500-ship fleet

Picture of USN file

Posted on February 21, 2022 at 02:03 by

The Maritime Executive

At a conference on Friday, the US Navy’s chief of naval operations, Admiral Mike Gilday, laid out a long reach for a much larger navy – not the current fleet’s 295 warships, but far more than 500, including a mix of manned and unmanned platforms.

The number reflects recent thinking “about how we would fight differently, in a distributed way across a vast ocean like the Pacific, in terms of integrating all domains simultaneously,” Gilday said at the WEST defense conference. 2022 in San Diego.

Gilday’s office concluded that an optimal force structure would consist of 12 carriers, as mandated by Congress; nine large deck amphibians; 20-30 small amphibians; 60 destroyers; 50 frigates; 70 attack submarines; 12 nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines; and about 100 support ships. The balance would come from a future fleet of 150 unmanned vessels.

The proposal is the latest iteration in a series of consecutive naval force structure review efforts conducted over the past few years. It is roughly similar to the Battle Force 2045 plan released by former Secretary of the Navy Mark Esper in October 2020, which called for a fleet of 500 ships of comparable proportions. That plan was shelved when the Biden administration took office last year.

Gilday said his office’s new force structure proposal is based on an extensive series of drills and trials, and is “in fact grounded in how we’re going to fight.” The service has worked out the details of a decentralized, networked and dispersed operating concept called Distributed Maritime Operations, which will spread assets over a wider area to make targeting more difficult for the adversary. It has also continued conceptual development work on naval warfare with unmanned systems, and this work is underway on a large scale with the Navy’s Unmanned Task Force and with a small-platform test unit at the US 5th Fleet, Task Force 59.

Any accumulation will depend on budgetary appropriations, which could prove to be a challenge. When adjusting for inflation, the Navy’s core funding hasn’t changed in a decade, according to Gilday, and finding the additional funding might require taking funds from other militaries — a politically difficult proposition. Gilday pointed out that the Navy had about 38% of the Pentagon’s Cold War budget; that share has fallen to around 34% today.