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New Report Says Surface Navy Should Go On Offensive

The U.S. Navy needs to embrace a more offensive surface warfare strategy which finds additional uses for long-range weapons and missiles, adds lasers and electromagnetic rail guns when available, according to a new study.

In order to keep pace with a fast-changing global threat environment and counter current and emerging threats, the Navy needs to use weapons differently and embrace new tactics to gain control of vital parts of the ocean, according to a new study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington D.C. think tank.

“The U.S. surface fleet must restructure itself around a new central idea of how it will fight,” said study author Bryan Clark, a senior fellow for CSBA.

The report focuses on the mid-2020s timeframe and challenges the Navy to think offensively regarding a much discussed Pentagon concept called anti-access/area-denial -- a term used to describe how enemies could use sensors and high-tech, long-range weapons to prevent the U.S. from operating in certain strategically important areas.

For example, China’s Dong Feng-21 land-launched ballistic missile is reported to be capable of reaching ranges out to 900 miles, a weapon which uses long-range targeting systems and could potentially prevent U.S. carriers and carrier strike groups from moving closer to the Chinese coastline.

The report specifically cites Chinese and Iranian military strategies as examples of A2/AD-type threats.

Many observers have made the point that the U.S. margin of technological superiority is decreasing as other militaries invest on defense and acquire and develop these kinds of weapons.

The CSBA study specifically addresses this phenomenon and says the Navy should develop and configure its surface warfare arsenal to address the changing security environment and strengthen an ability to go on offense against A2/AD threats.

“If the Navy doesn’t make good choices with regard to the configuration, payloads, and employment of surface combatants, it will fall further behind competitors who will increasingly be able to deny U.S. forces access to their region,” the study says.

Instead of using its current “layered” defense system which relies upon a series of long, medium and short-range missiles to intercept approaching enemy fire, the Navy should reconfigure its weapons for offensive use as a way to carve out safe space in the ocean and coastal areas, according to the report.

“Offensive sea control is the central concept around which the study’s recommendations are based. This idea would refocus large and small surface combatant configuration, payloads and employment on sustaining the surface force’s ability to take and hold areas of the ocean by destroying threats to access such as aircraft ships and submarines rather than simply defending against their missiles and torpedoes,”

For example, the study’s recommendations to the Navy include the suggestion that the service change the weapons mixture currently used in Vertical Launch Systems, or VLS, on board Navy destroyers and cruisers. The study recommends that the Navy free up weapons space in the VLS to allow for longer range offensive weaponry.

“The Navy should equip some Flight III Arleigh Burke-class DDGs (destroyers) with lasers for defensive AAW (anti-air warfare) and change the mix of VLS weapons they carry to favor shorter-range defensive weapons such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and long-range offensive weapons such as SM-6s or Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles,” the study says.

In addition, the study recommends that the Navy increasingly leverage the cost and tactical advantage of using an Electromagnetic Rail Gun, or EMRG.

“To gain the defensive AAW capacity possible with EMRGs, the Navy should install them on ships such as a joint high speed vessel that have space and weight available for associated power and cooling systems. The Navy should also explore the incorporation of a strike-oriented EMRG on one of the three Zumwalt-class DDGs,” the report states.

The report also stresses that the Navy should ensure that several of its next-generation weapons such as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile and Vertical Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket are able to offensively engage enemies outside anti-ship cruise missile range.

Regarding small surface combatants, the CSBA report says the Navy should build upon the Littoral Combat Ship variant selected by the Small Surface Combatant Task Force. The Navy is reportedly close to announcing the findings of the task force, which was directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel early this year to come up with a new, more-survivable LCS ship design.

“The Navy should modify one of the LCS variants to be the follow-on SSC (Small Surface Combatant) to leverage the learning curve already established with those ships and enable the new ship to promptly reach the fleet,” the study says.

Also, the study suggests the Navy consider back-fitting some of the LCS fleet with VLS for enhanced weapons ability.  Regarding the LCS, the study also recommends that the Navy separate the LCS mission packages from the LCS platform to an extent, allowing them to be configured for additional platforms.  The LCS mission packages are groups of technologies integrated together for specific mission such as surface warfare, mine-countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, responded enthusiastically to the CSBA report, welcoming its emphasis upon offensive fire-power.

"Bryan Clark's new report provides a roadmap for the surface navy to escape the defensive-first culture that has dominated its investments and planning the last two decades and find new ways to shape the competition at sea to our advantage. While I think his assessment on Cruiser force structure is flawed, I share the desire to explore ways to enhance the offensive firepower of our surface combatants, shift the anti-air warfare cost exchange ratio, and find innovative ways to use existing payloads like the SM-6," Forbes said in a written statement.

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