Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday made a pitch Tuesday for a new class of destroyers (DDGs) that would be smaller than the Zumwalt class but have a larger missile magazine for new types of weapons, including hypersonics.
"I call it 'DDG Next' to kind of right-size it -- smaller than a Zumwalt but packing some heat nonetheless," Gilday said by video during Defense One's State of the Navy event.
"I don't want to build a monstrosity, but I need deeper magazines on ships than I have right now," he said.
So the idea is to come up with a new destroyer smaller than the 16,000-ton, 610-foot Zumwalt, he explained.
Assuming that shipbuilders can solve the magazine problem, and the Navy gets the money in the coming era of tighter budgets, the new destroyers would play an integral part in the long-term plan to counter China, Gilday said.
Under Defense Secretary Mark Esper's "Battleforce 2045" plan unveiled earlier this month, the Navy's fleet would expand from nearly 300 ships now to 500 -- both manned and unmanned -- with a major shift in the strategic use of aircraft carriers.
The plan calls for a possible reduction in the number of "supercarriers" of the Ford and Nimitz classes to eight -- down from today's 11 -- and more reliance on a new class of smaller amphibious warships equipped with drones.
Gilday also has a new term for amphibs.
"Light carriers might more aptly be named the 'aviation combatant of the future,'" he said. "The time range here is 2045 so, whether or not an aviation platform of the future looks like the Gerald R. Ford or the Nimitz class -- that's questionable."
The Navy needs more analysis on what types of missions the smaller carriers would have, but Gilday said it might turn out that one of them would be Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting.
As described by Gilday, the plan for 2045 poses a number of problems that will be difficult to solve.
He spoke of the Navy's concept for the development of more long-range weapons to allow for confrontations with an adversary at stand-off distances, but unclear is how that will be balanced with the constant need of the Marine Corps to get closer to the fight for swift action.
He said the Navy will need funding increases of about 4.1% annually -- 2% of that for inflation. But when Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have repeatedly warned of flat defense budgets as the nation recovers from COVID-19 and a devastated economy, that figure seems an ambitious goal.
Defense One Editor Bradley Peniston posed another question to Gilday that went to the core of the problem with fleet expansion. How can the Navy manage a fleet of 500 ships when it can't get ships into and out of the yards on time for maintenance and repair with the fleet it has now?
Gilday replied that about 30% of the current delays in the public and private shipyards "can be attributed to poor planning. We need to drive down the unknowns for repairs."
"Everybody knows that the Achilles' heel of force generation for the Navy is the maintenance base," he said. "As naval officers, it's what we're supposed to be good at, and we haven't been as good as we ought to be."
However, performance from the yards has been improving, Gilday said. In 2019, only 37% of ships in the yards for maintenance got out on time, he said.
"Now in 2020, we're at 65% right now."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.