The Navy at a Tipping Point

I was passed along a really interesting brief from the influential Center for Naval Analyses that says the Navy must radically rethink strategy and force structure or its going to find itself on a slippery slope of fleet decline, a loss of combat power and then the ability to maintain forward presence. Apparently, the brief, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?” has had quite an impact on the folks over at OPNAV.

The gist of CNA’s argument is that the grim federal budget outlook, rising personnel and operations expenses along with skyrocketing costs of building new ships, will all put the squeeze on future shipbuilding. The prospect that the Navy will “get well” in future budgets is a myth. Continuing on the current shipbuilding course of about six or seven ships per year, the battle fleet will steadily decline over the next two decades, going from today’s 286 ships to around 230-240 ships from 2025 and out. The Navy faces the dilemma of maintaining forward presence and meeting maritime security requirements in the face of a shrinking battle fleet, CNA says.

Pursuing the current strategy is not an option. Called the “2 hub” strategy, it is based on maintaining carrier strike groups in the western Pacific and the Arabian Gulf, to counter China and Iran, along with global presence patrols and patrolling the maritime commons. If the Navy sticks with the high end strategy of 2 hubs, it will have to give up many amphibs and smaller LCS vessels, along with many engagement and low end missions such as counter piracy.

Conversely, it can emphasize low end missions, buying lots of smaller LCS and corvette sized vessels to maintain a larger fleet, but it will be forced to give up high end carriers and other costly large surface warships. The option I thought sounded most plausible is called the “1 hub” strategy: maintaining strong carrier strike groups and other surface warfare ships forward in the western Pacific while drawing down the presence in the Gulf. This option would also allow lower end engagement missions and patrolling the global commons.

I’ve got a lengthy write up over at DOD Buzz, go check it out.

-- Greg

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