The Surface Navy Association is holding its 28th National Symposium near the nation’s capital this week, and there is a lot to talk about. After 25 years of being able to take U.S. maritime superiority for granted, the Navy now faces what its top admiral, Chief of Naval Operations John M. Richardson, calls “a return to great power competition.”
Russia and China are rapidly expanding the scope of their naval operations while implementing anti-access/area denial strategies aimed at excluding American forces from nearby seas. Even smaller countries such as Iran are able to leverage new technologies to challenge U.S. use of strategic waterways such as the Strait of Hormuz.
The Navy has seen this threat coming for some time. At last year’s symposium, the commander of naval surface forces, Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, called for greatly increasing the firepower of destroyers, cruisers and other surface combatants so that they could operate in hunter-killer surface action groups under a new warfighting concept called “distributed lethality.”
The basic idea is that every warship will now be able to take the fight to the enemy, even when there isn’t an aircraft carrier nearby. As Rear Admiral Peter Fanta put it at the 2015 symposium, from now on, “if it floats, it fights.” That’s a big shift from the defensive missions many warships have been assigned since the Cold War ended.
Navy leaders don’t plan to develop new warship designs to implement the offensive strategy, because they don’t have the time or the money. Threats are emerging too quickly in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia, and the Navy’s shipbuilding budget is already overstretched by the need to begin replacing the nation’s sea-based nuclear deterrent — 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines — in the coming decade.
Even with military spending capped by legislation, the Congressional Budget Office foresees a return to trillion-dollar federal budget deficits by 2025. So the transformation of naval strategy will have to be accomplished using ship designs and technology that already exist today. (end of excerpt)
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