The latest plan to design a future force calls for a fleet of 373 manned ships, buttressed by about 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles by 2045, according to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday’s update to his Navigation Plan for the Navy.
“In the 2040s and beyond, we envision this hybrid fleet to require more than 350 manned ships, about 150 large unmanned surface and subsurface platforms, and approximately 3,000 aircraft,” reads the NAVPLAN obtained by USNI News.
“Strategic competition with China is both a current and long-term challenge. Focusing our force design on 2045 will inform the most consequential decisions and investments the Navy needs to make in the critical decade ahead.”
Last week, USNI News reported the service had delivered a classified force structure assessment to Congress that factored in the combatant commander requirements and a more detailed threat assessment – particularly in the Western Pacific. The NAVPLAN factors in the latest National Defense Strategy idea of “integrated deterrence,” partnering the Defense Department with other government agencies to compete with China and keep a military advantage over Russia as well as the emerging Joint Warfare Concept linking the services together in a conflict.
The NAVPLAN defines the overarching threats as the declining value of military deterrence, aggressive actions from the Chinese and Russians in contrast to international law and the speed of technological change.
Under that thought process, the 2045 fleet promotes ships with the flexibility to host higher-power weapon systems and sensors that can be quickly upgraded as technology changes.
“We will build future platforms with modernization in mind—hardware upgradeable and software updateable at the speed of innovation,” reads the report.
“We must build adequate space, weight, and power into our large long-life capital investments to support evolving sensors and weapons systems.”
The notional 2045 Navy calls for:
- 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines
- 12 Aircraft carriers
- 66 Submarines split between fast attack and large diameter payload boats
- 96 Large surface combatants like the Arleigh Burke class destroyer and the emerging DDG(X) next-generation destroyer
- 56 Constellation-class guided-missile frigates
- 31 Large amphibious ships
- 18 Light amphibious warships to support to Marine Littoral Regiments
- 82 Combat logistics ships and auxiliaries
- 150 large surface and subsurface unmanned vessels that will act as sensors and as auxiliary magazines to the manned fleet
In aviation, the plan calls for a mix of 1,300 5th generation carrier aircraft with a family of Next Generation Air Dominance fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, 900 “anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, to include helicopters and maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft” and 750 support aircraft.
The totals are a further tweak to the roughly 500-ship total Gilday said the service needed to meet its requirements during remarks at the WEST 2022 conference, co-hosted by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute earlier this year. The round number is also largely in line with the Trump administration’s fleet plan then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued late in 2020.
In line with a larger Defense Department drive, the Navy is crafting a concept of operations to conquer the vast distances in the Western Pacific with a network of sensors and shooters to find and attack targets. The Navy’s emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept was refined last year during the Large Scale Exercise 2021. The idea for DMO is to have a fleet commander with direct operational control over several formations like a carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups to mass their power together over thousands of miles.
To keep the pace and cost of new ships to the fleet, the report doubles down on the Fiscal Year 2023 budget goals of cutting existing ships in the fleet, including aging Ticonderoga -class cruisers and relatively young Littoral Combat Ships. Removing both classes of ships from the fleet have been contentious in Congress, with legislators form both parties seeking to block the early retirements.
“The Navy must set a sustainable trajectory now to ensure we remain the combat-credible maritime force our nation needs in the future,” reads the report.
“Retiring legacy platforms that cannot stay relevant in contested seas—and investing in the capabilities we need for the future—is essential for our national security.”