Planning for a 21st century Navy of unmanned vessels, distributed operations, and great power competition has collapsed. Trapped by a 355-ship force goal, a reduced budget, and a fixed counting methodology, the Navy can’t find a feasible solution to the difficult question of how its forces should be structured.
As a result, the Navy postponed announcement of its new force structure assessment (FSA) from January to “the spring.” That means the navy will not be able to influence the 2021 budget year much, forfeiting a major opportunity to reshape the fleet and bring it in line with the national defense strategy.
What the Navy Intended
Force structure assessments are the Navy’s mechanism for determining “the number and mix of ships in the objective force.” Thus, it drives, directly or indirectly, nearly all naval acquisition. The last FSA was a rushed job in late 2016, designed to bring the Navy’s goals, previously identified as 308 ships, in line with the president elect’s stated goal of 350 ships.
The Navy planned for this FSA to implement a sharp shift in how it would wage war in the future by emphasizing sea control with a clear eye on China and Russia. After the Cold War, when there was no naval force that could challenge the U.S. Navy at sea, the Navy focused on power projection; that is, using the sea to project power ashore. Now, the Russians and especially the Chinese can challenge the Navy at sea. Thus, this FSA would focus on building a fleet that could fight at sea against adversaries with long-range weapons and full-spectrum capabilities.
The Navy also planned for the new force structure to implement the evolving operational concept of Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) — having many sensors and shooters, widely dispersed, all linked through a network. (Breaking D readers know that, although the Navy doesn’t like to talk much about multi-domain operations, this will have to be one of their main contributions to it.)
This concept, with its implication for building more numerous, smaller, and more vulnerable platforms, breaks with the Navy’s previous operational concept that concentrated capabilities in a small number of extremely capable, but extremely expensive, carrier battle groups. (end of excerpt)
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