Report to Congress on the Light Amphibious Warship

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps […]

The following is the July 20, 2022, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of up to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps operational concept called Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). The Navy had previously envisioned procuring the first LAW in FY2023, but the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission defers the procurement of the first LAW to FY2025. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $12.2 million in research and development funding for the program.

The EABO concept was developed with an eye toward potential conflict scenarios with China in the Western Pacific. Under the concept, the Marine Corps envisions, among other things, having reinforced-platoon-sized Marine Corps units maneuver around the theater, moving from island to island, to fire anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and perform other missions so as to contribute, alongside Navy and other U.S. military forces, to U.S. operations to counter and deny sea control to Chinese forces. The LAW ships would be instrumental to these operations, with LAWs embarking, transporting, landing, and subsequently reembarking these small Marine Corps units.

LAWs would be much smaller and individually much less expensive to procure and operate than the Navy’s current amphibious ships. Under the Navy’s FY2023 budget submission, the first LAW would be procured in FY2025 at a cost of $247.0 million, the second LAW would be procured in FY2026 at a cost of $203.0 million, and the third and fourth LAWs would be procured in FY2027 at a combined cost of $290.0 million (i.e., an average cost of $145.0 million each). The first LAW would cost substantially more than subsequent ships in the program because the procurement cost of the first LAW would include much or all of the detailed design/nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the class. (It is a traditional Navy budgeting practice to include much of all of the DD/NRE costs for a class of ship in the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class.)

The LAW as outlined by the Navy could be built by any of several U.S. shipyards. The Navy’s baseline preference is to have a single shipyard build all the ships, but the Navy is open to having them built in multiple yards to the same design if doing so could permit the program to be implemented more quickly and/or less expensively. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission states that the contract for the construction of the first LAW would be awarded in December 2024, and that the ship would be delivered in July 2028.

The LAW program poses a number of potential oversight matters for Congress. The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s annual funding requests and envisioned acquisition strategy for the program. Congress’s decisions regarding the program could affect Navy and Marine Corps capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

Download the document here.

New Navy Fleet Study Calls for 373 Ship Battle Force, Details are Classified

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet. Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment […]

Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG-109), left, conducts a replenishment-at-sea with Supply-class fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE-6), in the Ionian Sea on May 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON – The Navy quietly slipped a new, classified assessment on the number of ships the service needs to meet its missions around the world to Congress earlier this month. The report calls for a battle force of 373 ships – 75 more than in the current fleet.

Dubbed the Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement, the Fiscal Year 2021 defense authorization bill called for the Navy to generate the report and deliver it directly to Congress.

“The Navy’s Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement (BFSAR) report determined that a battle force of 373 ships is required to meet future campaigning and warfighting demands. The report is classified and was submitted to Congress,” reads a statement from the service provided to USNI News.

Outside of the fleet total, the service did not provide an unclassified summary of the force structure. In prior years, the FSA has included an unclassified summary of the the required quantities for each type of battleforce ship in the fleet.

The new report is the latest in a long string of force structure reviews since 2016 as the service and big Pentagon have wrestled with the composition of the future fleet.

The requirement in the bill was designed to have the report bypass the Office of the Secretary of Defense and go directly to Congress, several legislative sources have told USNI News. OSD took a more active role in crafting the Navy’s force structure under former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and senior leadership has continued to be involved in the force structure process.

In February, the Navy rolled out a long-range shipbuilding plan that laid out three different versions of a battle force into 2052, depending on the number of resources the service is allocated. The first option would yield an inventory of 316 ships by FY 2052, the second would yield 327 ships by FY 2052 and the third would yield 367 ships.

Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday speaking on Jan. 11, 2022 from his office in the Pentagon. US Navy Photo

Those would be buttressed by emerging unmanned platforms that would extend the range of the Navy’s sensors and deepen magazines beyond its manned ships and submarines.

With those additions, the fleet could grow to 500 hulls or more, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said ahead of the long-range ship rollout in remarks during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

The most recent review follows the latest revision of the National Defense Strategy, which refines the Pentagon’s approach to countering China in the Pacific and Russia in Europe. Much of the detail of the updated NDS is classified, with the Office of the Secretary of Defense releasing a scant two-page summary of the overall goals.

The force structure will go through more tweaks before another revision is released later this year.

“The Navy is expected to complete a second BFSAR later this year, which will reflect new analytic work, changes to force design, and the impacts of the 2022 National Defense Strategy released in March on future Navy battle force structure,” reads the Navy statement.

CNO Gilday: ‘We Need a Naval Force of Over 500 Ships’

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday.  “I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday […]

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111), left, USS America (LHA-6), and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), transit the Philippine Sea on Jan. 22, 2022. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The U.S. Navy needs a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be released National Defense Strategy, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Friday. 

“I’ve concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday said during the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute.

“We need 12 carriers. We need a strong amphibious force to include nine big-deck amphibs and another 19 or 20 [LPDs] to support them. Perhaps 30 or more smaller amphibious ships to support Maritime Littoral Regiments… to 60 destroyers and probably 50 frigates, 70 attack submarines and a dozen ballistic missile submarines to about a 100 support ships and probably looking into the future about 150 unmanned.”

According to Gilday’s list, that force would be about 513 ships with 263 manned combatants, plus 100 logistics and supply ships and 150 unmanned vessels. Gilday told reporters later that the total would include Littoral Combat Ships.

“LCS is in that mix,” he said.

The numbers Gilday said on Friday are largely in line with a notional high-end total included in the abbreviated Fiscal Year 2022 long-range shipbuilding plan. The ongoing congressionally-mandated force structure assessment will inform the Fiscal Year 2024 budget, Gilday said. But details of the FSA have largely been under wraps as the Pentagon continues to craft its next national defense strategy.

“We’re going through another force structure assessment right now, but based on the hard work we’ve done over the last five or six years we’re thinking about how we would fight,” Gilday said. “How would we fight differently in terms of a wide, vast ocean like the Pacific?”

For the last three years, the Navy’s future force structure has been in flux, undergoing several different fleet reviews while the Department of the Navy and Pentagon leadership underwent unprecedented churn in 2019 and 2020.

The attempt at a force structure assessment led to the Trump administration releasing an ambitious fleet plan toward the end of its tenure. The Biden administration shelved the plan shortly after President Joe Biden took office, prompting the Navy and the Office of the Secretary of the Defense to again reevaluate the force under new Pentagon leadership and the prospect of a flat budget outlay.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaking at WEST 2022 on Feb. 18, 2022.

Over the last year, the Navy has set out on an aggressive testing program to refine the emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept that will connect crewed and unmanned ships and aircraft to operate in concert across the vast distances of the Pacific.

In particular, Large Scale Exercise 2021 tested DMO in addition to the Marines Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment across three combatant commands in a networked exercise with live and simulated exercises. The Navy and Marines are also testing deployed carrier strike and amphibious ready groups with complicated battle problems that further test the underlying concepts. Meanwhile, in U.S. 5th Fleet, the ongoing testing of small unmanned vessels is refining how the service thinks about employing them in the future.

“The real message I wanted to get out of those numbers, it’s actually grounded on how we’re going to fight,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps has an ongoing amphibious ship requirements study that it will ultimately deliver to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said the study is about 30 to 45 days away from completion and he expects the analysis to call for approximately 31 amphibious ships. So far, Del Toro has received two progress updates about the study, Berger said.

“If it’s anything like the previous studies – we’ve had I think 12 studies in the last 13 years – every one of them came out about 31 amphib ships,” Berger told reporters at WEST. “So I don’t know what this one will come to, but I can’t see it radically different from that. That’s requirements. That’s our Marine Corps requirement. That’s maybe different from what the nation can afford.”

The study is assessing the requirements for both large amphibious ships and the Light Amphibious Warship, which the Marine Corps wants to shuttle Marines around islands and shorelines in the Indo-Pacific. LAW is supposed to have a beaching capability so it can easily deliver Marines to the shore. While the Marine Corps is behind the push for LAW, money to purchase the platform would come out of the Navy’s shipbuilding account.

Gilday’s affirmation of the fleet follows reports the that the Biden administration is planning late influx funds into the Pentagon budget for FY 2023. USNI News reported earlier this week that the new topline could be as high $773 billion.

CNO Gilday Taking a More ‘Realistic’ Approach to Unmanned  Systems in the Fleet

SAN DIEGO, Cailf., – In the next five years the Navy wants to put smaller unmanned platforms in the fleet now while it waits for larger unmanned ships and aircraft to reach a level of reliability to fight with the crewed fleet in the 2030s, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told a group […]

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) sails in the Gulf of Aqaba off of Jordan’s coast on Dec. 12, 2021. US Army Photo

SAN DIEGO, Cailf., – In the next five years the Navy wants to put smaller unmanned platforms in the fleet now while it waits for larger unmanned ships and aircraft to reach a level of reliability to fight with the crewed fleet in the 2030s, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told a group of reporters on Wednesday.

China has the largest navy by hull count, 355, and the U.S. wants to blunt Beijing’s advantage by augmenting its manned ships and aircraft with unmanned and lightly crewed platforms that expand the awareness and weapons of the fleet, Gilday said.

“We feel that we have a very good understanding of how conceptually, we’re going to fight in the future, that’s now informing what we’re going to fight with what we believe to be a very large area, coming at an aggressor across many different vectors,” he said. “Capabilities [are] really important, but that capability is going to be a derivative of capacity.”

But how quickly the Navy can develop the platforms is an open question. The fielding for the unmanned systems has been slowed by Congressional requirements that call for the service to complete an extensive testing program before buying a fleet of unmanned ships.

Faced with limited budgets and a growing Chinese threat, Gilday wants to take a “realistic approach and evolutionary approach to finally getting to the point, hopefully, in the 2030s, where we really do have a hybrid fleet, where we can make Distributed Maritime Operations come alive in a way that would be highly effective if we actually had to fight,” he said.

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

The service has concept design contracts out for the Medium and Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles that would conceptually deploy with crewed guided-missile warships and amphibious ships. The ships would extend the range of the sensors and provide remote weapons magazines that could fire when cued by a crewed warship. Those ships – some as large as a 2000-ton corvette – are subject to the Congressional testing requirement.

“We’re moving in an evolutionary instead of a revolutionary manner, in order to deliver a platform [that] is going to be reliable and that’s actually going to perform as intended,” Gilday said. “We could actually learn greatly from our land-based engineering test sites … specifically up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where we can take an engineering configuration that we want to use on a specific platform.”

While the Navy is proving those systems to Congress, Gilday wants to get other types of smaller vehicles into the fleet sooner.

He used the ongoing experimentation with U.S. 5th Fleet’s Task Force 59 and International Maritime Exercise 22 as a test case for what can be done with smaller systems that can be employed faster.

U.S. 5th Fleet is using commercial unmanned surface systems that include the wind-powered, 23-foot-long Saildrone Explorer that has operated out of Jordan and MARTAC’s Mantas T12 USV that has operated from Bahrain. Gilday also said the Navy is studying unmanned systems used by other exercise participants including, Israel and India.

The Navy is also experimenting with unmanned ships and aircraft that can be deployed from almost any ship.

“If there are small unmanned aviation assets that can fly a couple of thousand miles and have payloads that extend our range for [information, surveillance and reconnaissance] it makes me less dependent upon programs like a MUSV. Maybe I don’t have to buy as many of those,” Gilday said.
“Maybe I just have to invest in smaller platforms that are also more expendable, but allow me to deploy them off of a variety of platforms, and extend our ISR range, or even our weapons range if they’re if we can weaponize some of those variants.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday addresses the crew of the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during Exercise Malabar on Oct. 14, 2021 in the Bay of Bengal. US Navy Photo

While the mechanical reliability of the platforms is a major point of concern, so are the networks that transmit the targeting data. The service plans to use its existing networks to transmit surveillance data and targeting information the same way a smartphones transitions from lower to different networks as a user moves from Wi-Fi to a cellular data network.

“The software on the phone shifts you to a [cell] network automatically. You don’t care, the phone doesn’t care, you’re just getting, you’re just getting the information you want when you want it. It’s that same type of idea where software would decide,” Gilday said.
“The system would then containerize it in a way that could ride on any one of those lightning bolts. It could move on any one of those systems to get to the endpoint system. It’s leveraging the fact that every shooter doesn’t necessarily have to sense the target that you’re going to that it is going to fire at. That it can be set the target it can be… radio silent.”

The Navy has tested the software-defined system in San Diego and Gilday said there are plans to test a battle group with the concept later this year or in early 2023.

The new tack from the Navy will get new unmanned systems to the fleet faster and inform the larger systems that are developing more slowly.

“We thought that was important, or I thought that was important from a risk-reduction standpoint so that we could begin to mature and then hopefully scale unmanned capabilities at a faster pace,” he said.

Report to Congress on Navy Light Amphibious Warship

The following is the Dec 9, 2021, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy’s new Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of 24 to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine […]

The following is the Dec 9, 2021, Congressional Research Service report Navy Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy’s new Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) program envisions procuring a class of 24 to 35 new amphibious ships to support the Marine Corps, particularly in implementing a new Marine Corps operational concept called Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO). (A June 17, 2021, long-range Navy shipbuilding document envisions procuring a total of 24 to 35 LAWs, while other Navy documents refer to a requirement for 35 LAWs.) The Navy envisions the first LAW being procured in FY2023. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $13.2 million in research and development funding for the program.

The EABO concept was developed with an eye toward potential conflict scenarios with China in the Western Pacific. Under the concept, the Marine Corps envisions, among other things, having reinforced-platoon-sized Marine Corps units maneuver around the theater, moving from island to island, to fire anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) and perform other missions so as to contribute, alongside Navy and other U.S. military forces, to U.S. operations to counter and deny sea control to Chinese forces. The LAW ships would be instrumental to these operations, with LAWs embarking, transporting, landing, and subsequently reembarking these small Marine Corps units.

As conceived by the Navy and Marine Corps, LAWs would be much smaller and individually much less expensive to procure and operate than the Navy’s current amphibious ships. The Navy estimates that the first LAW would cost about $156 million to procure, and that subsequent LAWs would cost about $130 million each to procure.

The LAW as outlined by the Navy is small enough that it could be built by any of several U.S. shipyards. The Navy’s baseline preference is to have a single shipyard build all the ships, but the Navy is open to having them built in multiple yards to the same design if doing so could permit the program to be implemented more quickly and/or less expensively. The Navy plans to release the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the detail design and construction (DD&C) contract for the LAW program in the second quarter of FY2022, and to award the contract in the first quester of FY2023.

The LAW program poses a number of potential oversight matters for Congress, including the merits of the EABO concept, how LAWs would fit into the Navy’s future fleet architecture, the Navy’s preliminary unit procurement cost target for the ship, and the industrial-base implications of the program.

The issue for Congress is whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s annual funding requests and envisioned acquisition strategy for the program. Congress’s decisions regarding the program could affect Navy and Marine Corps capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

Download the document here.

Top Stories 2020: U.S. Navy Acquisition

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction […]

Attack boat Vermont (SSN-792) float-off on March 29, 2019. General Dynamics Electric Boats Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction on the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, a massive every-other-generation effort to replace the sea-based nuclear deterrent subs. It was also the year the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate program was awarded to Fincantieri, who will design and build what will become a centerpiece of the future distributed fleet. It was the year the Navy called for an end to the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet program, reinvesting that money into a longer-range next-generation fighter that could help silence critics who say the aircraft carrier will be useless against China because the air wing’s range is too short. And it was the year the Navy and its Marine Corps partners moved out on a Light Amphibious Warship that could revolutionize how the Fleet Marine Force moves around a maritime theater in support of sea control and sea denial.

Surface Ships

Fincantieri FFG(X) Design based on the FREMM. Fincantieri Image

The surface fleet is among the parts of the Navy most changed by Distributed Maritime Operations. Rather than the Navy’s recent reliance on guided-missile cruisers and destroyers to drill with allies and partners, patrol chokepoints and conduct freedom of navigation operations, the Navy will instead rely on a large fleet of small combatants to do much of this day-to-day work, freeing up a smaller number of destroyers to conduct higher-end operations and haul around large, long-range missiles. Key to this plan is the success of the Constellation-class frigate. The Navy awarded a $795-million contract to Fincantieri on April 30 to do detail design work and build the first frigate in the class. Options for as many as nine more ships would bring the total value to $5.58 billion if exercised. Fincantieri beat out four other competitors with a design based on the FREMM multi-mission frigate already operated by the French and Italian navies. It will build the frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. In October, the class officially received a name, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announcing the first-in-class ship would be USS Constellation (FFG-62) – after it was nearly named USS Agility by former SECNAV Thomas Modly earlier in the year. Though there will be fewer large combatants in the fleet, their mission will remain important: Navy leadership has said the large combatants of the future will haul around the biggest missiles, including hypersonic weapons.

USS Detroit (LCS-7) sails in formation with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) while conducting maritime security operations in the Caribbean Sea. US Navy Photo

The Navy is still struggling to figure out how to get the ship it needs for a price it can afford, given the deemphasis on the large combatant portfolio in future fleet plans. What was once a 2023 start to the Large Surface Combatant program was pushed to 2025 and then 2026 – and this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the large combatant, which he calls “DDG-Next,” will begin detail design in 2026 and construction in 2028. New and important to the DMO concept – and the related Marine Corps concepts of Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) – are the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) and the Next-Generation Logistics Ship (NGLS) programs that kicked off this year. After some Marine Corps officials had kicked around the idea of a stern-landing vessel for EABO operations last year, in February the Navy included in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget request $30 million each to begin working on the new amphib and new logistics ship.

Sea Transport Solutions Image

Throughout the summer, the vision of what LAW would become grew clearer, as the Marines made the case for small units operating outside the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit construct. These units would move from shore to shore, providing the joint force forward refueling and rearming capabilities in remote locations, collecting intelligence, providing anti-ship and even anti-submarine strike capabilities, and more. Their small footprint and maneuverability with the LAWs would make them hard for an adversary to detect and hit. By the fall, a cost estimate of about $100 million apiece, as well as requirements for length, storage capacity, crewing and more emerged, showing the dedication to begin buying the ships in FY 2022. According to the long-range shipbuilding plan that accompanied the release of Battle Force 2045, the Next-Generation Logistics Ship would kick off procurement in FY 2023, though much less is known about that new ship compared to the LAW. This medium-sized ship would be able to help resupply the distributed Navy and Marine forces operating under DMO and EABO, while blending in with local merchant traffic and being harder for an adversary to target and disrupt the flow of supplies into theater. It’s unclear how far along the Navy is in developing its requirements. A previous effort for a somewhat larger set of ships to do resupply and other missions, called the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform (CHAMP), has hit several roadblocks as its price tag remains higher than Navy and White House officials are comfortable spending on an auxiliary ship.

Submarines

Virginia-class submarine Delaware (SSN-791) was moved out of a construction facility into a floating dry dock using a transfer car system in 2018. HII Photo

The Navy in November awarded $9.47 billion to General Dynamics Electric Boat to officially start construction on the first ballistic-missile submarine in the Columbia class. This SSBN program is the Navy’s all-important program with no room for error or delays, after all schedule margin was eaten up in the early days of the program and the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826) must be ready for its first patrol in the fall of 2030. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia program remained on track, in a nod to the importance on the program and the Navy prioritizing resources – available workers, materials and money – to keeping this program on track, even if it means attack submarines or aircraft carriers slipping in schedule. Still, though the program has remained on track, the Navy announced last month it was looking at extending the life of the legacy Ohio-class SSBNs – again – to provide a bit of additional capacity for combatant commanders and a bit of cushion in case there are hiccups in the future with the Columbia program. Partly as a result of keeping Columbia on track, the Virginia-class attack submarines slipped further behind in production this year, after already having some schedule delays as the program tried to maintain a two-a-year production rate. Threatening to further challenge the program was a White House proposal to buy just one SSN in FY 2021, which would throw off the workflow for thousands of suppliers trying to smoothly ramp up their production rates to accommodate both the Virginia and the Columbia programs. The White House reversed course in late November and expressed support for a second Virginia sub. Looking towards the future, the Navy this year made headway planning for its Block VI Virginia design – which would add new capability and lethality such as improved stealth and the ability to conduct seabed warfare – as well as the SSN(X) design that would build upon both Block VI and the Columbia SSBN design. All told, the Navy is trying to morph its attack submarine fleet to something closer to the Seawolf class, which was designed to operate deep into Soviet waters and go head-to-head with peer adversary subs, compared to the Virginia class which was originally designed for land-attack and intelligence-collection missions.

Carrier Aviation

Sailors assigned to the air department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) prepare to launch an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 during flight operations, March 29, 2020. US Navy Photo

Even as the Navy continued on with its Ford-class carriers this year, questions began swirling about the class’s future and what might come next to either replace or to supplement the Ford-class supercarrier. In March, Modly kicked off a Blue-Ribbon Future Carrier 2030 Task Force to look at the future of aircraft carriers and whether the U.S. Navy would stick with the Ford class beyond the future Doris Miller (CVN-81), whether it would move to a different nuclear-powered carrier design, or whether it would use conventionally powered carriers. Despite the prominent figures on the task force, it was not particularly well received: any reduction in demand for nuclear ship components could break the fragile industrial base, some worried, while others were concerned that the 11-carrier fleet was already overworked today and that the task force could lead to a reduction in CVNs in the future without a reduction in demand for their presence in theater. Though the study itself was canceled just two months later by Acting SECNAV James McPherson, the idea lingered: former Defense Secretary Mark Esper became interested in the notion of a conventionally powered light carrier to supplement the nuclear-powered supercarrier, and after months of study he settled on a plan to field eight to 11 CVNs – possibly down from today’s 11 – and supplement them with as many as six CVLs. He and Navy officials conceded that much work needed to be done to figure out what the CVL would look like and how to balance the two classes of ships.

Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. US Navy photo.

Despite the questions about the future of carriers, the Ford-class program continued along, with USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) at times spending more days at sea than in port to conduct post-delivery tests and trials and get ready for full-ship shock trials next summer. Despite PDT&T moving ahead of schedule and the troubled Advanced Weapons Elevators finally coming online in numbers, the Navy fired its CVN-78 program manager and brought in a captain with “proven program management acumen and extensive waterfront experience” to see Ford through its remaining work before being fully turned over to the fleet for a maiden deployment.

Aircraft

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Dambusters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195, prepares to land on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 16, 2020. US Navy Photo

In a major move for carrier aviation, the Navy announced in February in its FY 2021 budget request that it would not continue Super Hornet production beyond the end of the current multiyear contract, which runs through FY 2021. Funding that had been planned for another contract for FY 2022 through 2024 would instead be diverted to “accelerated development of Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and other key aviation wholeness investments.” With little fanfare, the Navy stood up an NGAD program office under Naval Air Systems Command in May and quickly began industry talks. Though investing in NGAD was the primary reason for ending the Super Hornet line, the Navy also said that stopping new Super Hornet production would free up the production line for Super Hornet life extension work, which the Navy needs to add capability to the jets and keep them around long enough for a replacement to be designed and built.

Sailors assigned to Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30 direct a CMV-22B Osprey from the ‘Titans’ of VRM 30 on the flight deck of Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Nov. 20, 2020. US Navy Photo

Supporting a near-term change for the carrier air wing, Bell-Boeing delivered the first CMV-22B Osprey to the Navy in February, allowing the Navy to start a short test and evaluation program before turning the aircraft over to the operational squadron that will support the first deployment in 2021. The Navy needs the CMV-22 to serve as its new carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform because the legacy C-2 Greyhound cannot carry a large F-35C engine; the Osprey could carry the engine out to an aircraft carrier and would also have the added flexibility of being able to bring people and supplies directly to the other ships in the strike group, which can support the V-22 landing on their helicopter decks. USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) will make the first deployment with the F-35C in 2021, so the CMV-22 needs to be ready too for that deployment. Looking a few years out, the Navy is making good progress on its MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based refueling tanker. In April the Navy exercised a contract option to buy three more aircraft from Boeing, and in December the Stingray made its first flight with the refueling system attached under its wings.

Unmanned Systems

Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Oct. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

In other unmanned news, the Navy set off down a path to design and build medium and large unmanned surface vessels of its own, after earlier work had been done with Pentagon-purchased USVs. L3 Technologies in July won a $35-million contract to develop a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), with options for eight follow-on craft that could bring the contract to a value of $281 million. In September, the Navy awarded six companies contracts to begin determining what the service’s Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle will look like. Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marinette, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockheed Martin and Gibbs & Cox each won about $7 million for LUSV design studies. Using Pentagon-built prototypes, the Navy operated the Sea Hunter medium USV with a carrier strike group this year, and an Overlord large USV conducted the first-ever autonomous transit of the Panama Canal as it sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern California. In the undersea domain, just this week the Navy released its final request for proposals for the Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program, with the intention to select a single vendor next year to begin designing and building two prototypes.

Plans and Budgets

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and their carrier strike groups (CSGs) steam in formation on July 6, 2020. US Navy Photo

Though many of these moves in 2020 will be instrumental in creating the fleet the Navy and Marine Corps know they need to deter China or win a fight if needed – especially the unmanned vessels, the light amphib and the frigate – the exact future shipbuilding plans for the Navy are still unclear. After the Navy and Marine Corps wrapped up an Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment in January, Esper did not agree it was the right plan. He ultimately kicked off a Pentagon-led Future Naval Force Study that worked from February to October to look at what the sea services needed to do to be prepared to beat China in a fight in the 2045 timeframe. This effort led to a Battle Force 2045 plan that had all the same themes as the Navy’s original INFSA earlier in the year. The Pentagon couched the differences as a matter of timelines and how aggressively to begin making changes: The Navy had been focused on a 2030 timeframe and what needed to happen quickly to overhaul the fleet in the next decade to support DMO, LOCE and EABO. The Pentagon instead took a longer view meant to incorporate what kind of threat China could ultimately become in the long run and therefore what the Navy and Marines would need to do to counter it – with the expectation that transformation would start now with that 2045 threat in mind. The plan will need buy-in from lawmakers, who have been largely unimpressed with the plans presented to them this year. The original FY 2021 budget request was called “dead on arrival” after it contained the smallest shipbuilding budget in years. The Battle Force 2045 and its accompanying long-range shipbuilding plan was panned for the opposite reason, for being out of touch with budget realities and calling for too quick a naval buildup.

U.S. Maritime Strategy: Advantage at Sea

The following is the U.S. Sea Services’ new maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power that was released by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on Dec. 17, 2020. From the report The United States is a maritime nation. Our security and prosperity depend on the seas. Since the end […]

The following is the U.S. Sea Services’ new maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power that was released by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on Dec. 17, 2020.

From the report

The United States is a maritime nation. Our security and prosperity depend on the seas. Since the end of World War II, the United States has built, led, and advanced a rules-based international system through shared commitments with our allies and partners. Forward deployed forces of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard—collectively known as the Naval Service—have guaranteed the security of this system. Free and open access to the world’s oceans has fostered an extraordinary era of wealth and peace for many nations. That system is now at risk.

Advantage at Sea is a Tri-Service Maritime Strategy that focuses on China and Russia, the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity. We prioritize competition with China due to its growing economic and military strength, increasing aggressiveness, and demonstrated intent to dominate its regional waters and remake the international order in its favor. Until China chooses to act as a responsible stakeholder rather than brandish its power to further its authoritarian interests, it represents the most comprehensive threat to the United States, our allies, and all nations supporting a free and open system.

Other rivals, including Iran, North Korea, violent extremist organizations, and transnational criminal organizations, also continue to subvert the international rules-based order. We will address these challengers in a coordinated, multinational manner with forces developed to address more significant military threats.

The stakes of this competition are high. China’s aggressive actions are undermining the international rules-based order, while its growing military capacity and capabilities are eroding U.S. military advantages at an alarming rate. The Naval Service must act with urgency, clarity, and vision to take the bold steps required to reverse these trends.

Advantage at Sea provides guidance to the Naval Service for the next decade to prevail across a continuum of competition—composed of interactions with other nations from cooperation to conflict. This strategy emphasizes the following five themes. We must fullyleverage the complementary authorities and capabilities of the Naval Service to generate Integrated All-Domain Naval Power. We must strengthen our alliances and partnerships— our key strategic advantage in this long-term strategic competition—and achieve unity of effort. We must operate more assertively to prevail in day-to-day competition as we uphold the rules-based order and deter our competitors from pursuing armed aggression. If our rivals escalate into conflict, becoming our adversaries, we must control the seas to deny their objectives, defeat their forces, protect our homeland, and defend our allies. And, we must boldly modernize the future naval force to maintain credible deterrence and preserve our advantage at sea.

This strategy connects the Service Chiefs’ statutory roles—developing naval forces and providing best military advice for employing naval forces. Section I outlines the security environment and the problems that we face. Section II articulates how Integrated All-Domain Naval Power addresses these problems. Section III describes how naval power can be applied across the competition continuum in day-to-day competition, crisis, and conflict to achieve national objectives. Section IV guides the development and integration of a modernized, alldomain naval force that will ensure our unfettered access to the seas and reverse our eroding military advantages.

The challenges we face require us to make hard choices. This strategy prioritizes our most pressing threats, emphasizes expanded cooperation with allies and partners, and relies on deeper Naval Service integration to mitigate strategic risk to the Nation. Additional detail regarding our priorities, capabilities, investments, divestments, and operational approaches is contained in supporting classified guidance, both existing and forthcoming. Advantage at Sea is complemented by separate Service Chief guidance, such as the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan, the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Planning Guidance, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard’s Strategic Plan.

Download the document here.

New U.S. Maritime Strategy Sets Sights on China

The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard released their clearest argument yet for what they need to do to be prepared to take on China – not in a hypothetical future scenario, but in the day-to-day competition happening now on the seas. The chief of naval operations and the commandants of the Marine Corps and […]

The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL 752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG 85) maneuver into formation during Talisman Sabre 2019. US Navy photo.

The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard released their clearest argument yet for what they need to do to be prepared to take on China – not in a hypothetical future scenario, but in the day-to-day competition happening now on the seas.
The chief of naval operations and the commandants of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard signed a tri-service maritime strategy – Advantage at Sea; Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power – that was released today and is the first of its kind since the 2015 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.

The document notes that the services need to work together today to make preparations for a high-end war with China – but equally importantly, they need a strategy and the right tools to counter the day-to-day competition, sometimes called gray-zone operations, that China is currently conducting. The strategy accuses China of attacking military and civilian cyber networks; fielding naval auxiliaries disguised as civilian vessels; militarizing disputed islands and rock formations in the South China Sea; building up strategic, space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities; and pressuring small countries economically to build up overseas logistics and basing infrastructure in strategic maritime locations – activities that have been ongoing for years but the services haven’t been well positioned to talk about or counter.

This new strategy looks at the entire continuum of competition, crisis and conflict and examines in detail how the three services can play a role in each phase and what new tools and concepts they’ll need to succeed.

The document begins by laying out the problem: “Advantage at Sea is a Tri-Service Maritime Strategy that focuses on China and Russia, the two most significant threats to this era of global peace and prosperity. We prioritize competition with China due to its growing economic and military strength, increasing aggressiveness, and demonstrated intent to dominate its regional waters and remake the international order in its favor. Until China chooses to act as a responsible stakeholder rather than brandish its power to further its authoritarian interests, it represents the most comprehensive threat to the United States, our allies, and all nations supporting a free and open system.”

“China has implemented a strategy and revisionist approach that aims at the heart of the United States’ maritime power. It seeks to corrode international maritime governance, deny access to traditional logistical hubs, inhibit freedom of the seas, control use of key chokepoints, deter our engagement in regional disputes, and displace the United States as the preferred partner in countries around the world,” it adds.

The launch of the Type 75 big-deck amphib in Shanghai on. PLAN Photo

Noting that China’s navy is growing faster than the U.S.’s and could further expand faster in wartime due to greater manufacturing capacity than the United States – plus the fleet is focused on the Western Pacific, whereas the U.S. fleet has global responsibilities – the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard lay out a new strategy that leverages each service’s unique advantages grows overall capacity in a cost-minded way.

“Integrated naval forces are uniquely suited for operations across the competition continuum. The Coast Guard’s mission profile makes it the preferred maritime security partner for many nations vulnerable to coercion. Integrating its unique authorities—law enforcement, fisheries protection, marine safety, and maritime security—with Navy and Marine Corps capabilities expands the options we provide to joint force commanders for cooperation and competition. In conflict, Navy-Marine Corps integration expands our ability to control the seas, as we combine distributed fleet operations and mobile, expeditionary formations with sea control and sea denial capabilities. These operations are guided by Naval Service concepts—Distributed Maritime Operations, Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment, and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations—that combine the effects of sea-based and land-based fires, enabling our forces to mass combat power at times and places of our choosing. Closer integration allows our forces to distribute more broadly and increase our operational unpredictability across the competition continuum by varying our timing, location, domain, forces, and activities.”

Further complicating the operating picture is the notion that, “In strategic competition, interactions between our forces and those of our competitors may occur at varying levels of intensity, in different locations, and in multiple domains simultaneously. In the following three sections—day-to-day competition, crisis, and conflict— we illustrate how our naval forces operate seamlessly across the competition continuum” while leveraging five main lines of effort.

  • Advance global maritime security and governance. We will operate with allies, partners, other U.S. agencies, and multinational groups to maintain a free and open maritime environment, and uphold the norms underpinning our shared security and prosperity.
  • Strengthen alliances and partnerships. We will maintain and expand our large and diverse network of allies and partners. Acting with unity of effort, like-minded-nations generate enormous power to modify behavior in the maritime domain. Allies and partners must be ready and willing to bring capability and capacity to operations across the competition continuum.
  • Confront and expose malign behavior. Together with whole-of-government partners, we will deny the obscurity that our rivals exploit, holding them accountable to the same standards by which others abide. Exposing and attributing malign behavior imposes reputational costs, diminishes the effectiveness of propaganda, and galvanizes international resistance.
  • Expand information and decision advantage. We will maintain superiority in coordinating, distributing, and maneuvering our forces. We will sense, decide, and act more quickly and effectively than our adversaries. Maintaining decision advantage removes adversary leaders’ sense of control, inducing doubt and increased caution in crisis and conflict.
  • Deploy and sustain combat-credible forces. Forward deployed, combat-credible forces enable all lines of effort. We will deter potential adversaries from escalating into conflict by making that fight unwinnable for them. Should our adversaries choose the path of war, naval and joint forces will defeat adversary forces and impose global costs by leveraging our wartime operational concepts.

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) with embarked U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 407 conducts enhanced counter-narcotics operations, Dec. 5, 2020. US Navy Photo

Starting with competition – which is already happening at sea today with China – the strategy says, “Together with international and whole-of-government efforts, the Naval Service will detect and document our rivals’ actions that violate international law, steal resources, and infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations. We will provide evidence of malign activities to U.S. and international officials to expose this behavior and increase the reputational costs for aggressors. Forward naval forces, leveraging our complementary law-enforcement authorities and military capabilities, will stand ready to disrupt malign activities through assertive operations. Our expanded efforts will refute the false narratives of our rivals and demonstrate the United States’ commitment to protecting the rules-based order.”

To prepare for a crisis, “the Naval Service offers flexible options to respond to crises, manage escalation, and preserve decision space for national leaders. Because naval forces are globally maneuverable and persistently operate forward, we are often already on-scene at the onset of a crisis.”

“Operating our naval forces far forward—in harm’s way and in contested environments— raises the risks for rivals considering the path of escalation and prevents crisis from escalating into war. Navy and Marine Corps forces demonstrate visible combat readiness, support deterrence, and missile defense. Coast Guard forces provide additional tools for crisis management through capabilities that can de-escalate maritime standoffs nonlethally,” it continues.

To prepare for all-out conflict, the strategy largely aligns with the operational concepts and related shipbuilding plans the Navy has been working on over the past few years. The Navy will achieve a fleet optimized for Distributed Maritime Operations, where a large number of small and unmanned ships will be spread out across the vast Pacific, with larger aircraft carriers, amphibious ships and destroyers armed with long-range weapons and aircraft to contribute to the fight. The Marine Corps will be optimized for its Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment and its Expeditionary Advance Base Operations concepts, where small groups of Marines will be able to maneuver around the battlespace, providing forward refueling stations, temporary missile-launching sites, intelligence-gathering posts and more. And the Coast Guard, which previously hadn’t talked about its role in this future DMO/EABO fight, would contribute with its niche capabilities, such as interdiction teams that could disrupt the flow of logistics to the enemy.

The strategy outlines what a possible conflict could look like in greater detail than the services have previously discussed:

“Controlling the seas enables the Naval Service to project power in support of Joint Force efforts and protect joint and allied forces surging to conflict theaters. Where adversaries must cross open water, sea denial robs them of the initiative, impedes a fait accompli, and prevents them from achieving their objectives. We control or deny the seas by destroying an adversary’s fleet, containing it in areas that prevent meaningful operations, prohibiting it from leaving port, or by controlling sea lines of communication. In collaboration with allies and partners, we will be capable of controlling critical choke points, enabling us to safeguard joint forces flowing into theater and to impose military and economic costs on our adversaries,” it reads.
“Our combat operations will support, and be supported by, the Joint Force. Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force aircraft will sustain dominance of the skies, supported by joint aerial refueling assets. Bombers and fighters will mass overwhelming anti-surface and land-attack fires. Marine Corps expeditionary forces ashore will support domain awareness, provide forward arming and refueling points, and deny adversaries the use of key maritime terrain. Rapidly deployable Coast Guard cutters, Port Security Units, and Advanced Interdiction Teams will provide specialized capabilities, augmenting operations in theater. Joint long-range precision fires will hold high-value adversary targets at risk, allowing U.S. and allied forces to focus on destroying the adversary’s fleet. Joint theater logistics will sustain and enable a high operational tempo in combat. Joint cyber and space effects will support all of these operations.”

U.S. Marines with Charlie Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, identify an objective during an aerial raid training operation on Oct. 22, 2020. US Navy Photo

“Allies and partners add capability, capacity, and legitimacy in combat operations. Leveraging our interoperable C2 networks, allies and partners provide all-domain fires to help establish sea control and project power. They interdict adversary war materials and commerce; provide access, basing, and overflight; and deliver additional critical capabilities, such as intelligence and logistics support. Allies and partners will also play a crucial role in deterring opportunistic aggression in additional theaters, as well as maintaining maritime governance and exposing malign behavior.”

Many of the acquisition needs to support this vision are already well established, including long-range anti-ship missiles for Marines; “maritime domain awareness technologies to find, fix, track, and target adversary forces;” Virginia-class attack submarines and improved undersea warfare capabilities such as a bolstered Integrated Undersea Surveillance System infrastructure and offensive mines; longer-range aircraft to expand the lethality and survivability of the carrier air wing; and a more flexible and resilient – and larger – network of logistics ships.

The strategy notes that, in trying to find the funds to pay for fleets that can fulfill this vision, the services must prioritize sea control and sea denial over other missions; must focus on platforms and formations that can quickly transition from day-to-day competition to conflict if needed; and must ensure the three services remain interoperable and netted together to share common operating pictures, targeting data and communications.

Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, in a preface to the strategy, wrote that “This strategy details the direction our Service Chiefs have designed together. It is a strong signal of support for our personnel, our allies, and our partners—and a cautionary warning for any would-be adversaries. We are and will always be one force—Semper Fortis, Semper Fidelis, Semper Paratus—always strong, always faithful, and always ready to protect and defend the United States of America, around the clock and around the world.”