U.S. Pacific Allies Want to Work Together to Blunt Chinese Nuclear Threat

As China builds up its nuclear weapons arsenal and expands its conventional military forces, United States allies in the Pacific are asking Washington for an extended deterrence alliance in the region, three security experts said Wednesday. Toshi Yoshihara, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessment, said China has played up the idea […]

Chinese DF-41 missiles in 2020.

As China builds up its nuclear weapons arsenal and expands its conventional military forces, United States allies in the Pacific are asking Washington for an extended deterrence alliance in the region, three security experts said Wednesday.

Toshi Yoshihara, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessment, said China has played up the idea that extended deterrence “tends to be very fragile” when a crisis arises. Beijing believes it could split apart allies before a conflict with the threat of using theater nuclear weapons he said.

This immediate threat from China to use nuclear weapons against U.S. allies – like Japan and the Republic of Korea – in Northeast Asia has caused Tokyo and Seoul to consider new security arrangements, Yoshihara said. Efforts to reposition nuclear weapons in the region and drafting new agreements on employment that were once “unthinkable” could now be possible.

There is no treaty arrangement like NATO in the Indo-Pacific that has a consultative process for the use of nuclear weapons, the panelists noted.

Russia has used this same threat of using theater nuclear weapons since 2014 and raised the possibility again following major setbacks in its invasion of Ukraine. Both Moscow and Beijing have included this option in publicly announced military doctrine.

China is building hundreds of new missile silos in the western part of the country, fielding road mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, developing a fleet of new strategic bombers with improved long-range strike capabilities and putting to sea additional ballistic missile submarines, Yoshihara noted. These developments mark “a change in tone” in what analysts believed Beijing’s ambitions were as late as 2010.

Gone is the “mean and effective force” of sea- and land-based nuclear weapons to deter attack, replaced with a force fitting with President Xi Jinping’s goal of China possessing “a world-class military” that is capable of acting regionally and globally.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation online event, Franklin Miller, a principal at the Scowcroft Group, described China’s nuclear build-up “as highly impressive.” He noted that the build-up happened as Beijing probed western resolve over its building of artificial islands in the South China Sea, territorial claims across the Indo-Pacific, harassment of neighbors like Taiwan and Vietnam and provocative maritime activities around the Japanese Senkaku Islands.

“What is the aim of this build-up” at all levels of range and across the triad, he asked rhetorically.

Miller and the others said the major consequence of what is often called the “Chinese nuclear breakout” is that “we must be thinking of deterring Russia and China simultaneously,” not consecutively. The question the U.S. must answer is “can we cover the targets Russia and China hold most dear” to deter the two nations.

When answering that question, “we need to have a sense of urgency” that includes pursuing missile defense for Guam, potentially expanding the Australia United Kingdom United States (AUKUS) technology transfer agreement to include Japan and South Korea, and rebuilding America’s own conventional weapons arsenal.

Brad Roberts, former deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear and missile and defense policy, said it also means Washington needs to handle threats in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific.

Several times during the discussion, Russia’s and China’s previous declaration of a “no limits” partnership came up as a possibility that could set off simultaneous crises. But what the partnership actually means after the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is unclear.

“We’re going to be asking more [of] allies; they’re going to be asking more of us” when it comes to deterrence, he said.

Roberts said the nuclear posture the United States has now reflects the end of the Cold War. “That posture is just of alignment” with the changed circumstances globally. In addition to working more closely with allies, he said Washington’s current commitment to rebuilding the U.S. nuclear triad is actually a replacement strategy rather than a modernization one.

On the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, which the Biden administration canceled, the panelists agreed it was an option that had value. Yoshihara said that in his meetings with Japanese officials, they regularly asked why the administration canceled the program.

Other options that panelists offered to address an assurance and deterrence gap without trying to match Moscow and Beijing weapon for weapon are to ensure all bombers, including the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, are capable of carrying long-range stand-off missiles, build more B-21s than projected and extend the construction of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.

Roberts stressed that while militaries may have a doctrine for how to use theater nuclear weapons during a crisis, there remains a “question of political engagement” on their employment. “This is a new problem, how do we deter Xi and [Vladimir] Putin?” He added, “Interestingly, Putin has backed down recently” from using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Navy Could Extend Life of Five Ohio-class Ballistic Missile Boats to Hedge Against Columbia Program Delays

ARLINGTON, Va. – Five of the Navy’s oldest submarines are candidates for a three-year life extension, service officials said on Tuesday. The 18-month repair period would target the five Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, to support a requirement for the Navy to surge 10 boomers as a strategic nuclear contingency, program executive officer […]

USS Alaska (SSBN-732) arrived at the Port of Gibraltar on June 28, 2021. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – Five of the Navy’s oldest submarines are candidates for a three-year life extension, service officials said on Tuesday.

The 18-month repair period would target the five Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, to support a requirement for the Navy to surge 10 boomers as a strategic nuclear contingency, program executive officer for strategic submarines Rear Adm. Scott Pappano said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium.

The plan would provide a cushion while the first Columbia-class boats come online, starting with the future USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826), which is set to begin its first patrol in October 2030.

“The riskiest period for them is in the 2030s as Columbias come online and the Ohios go out,” Pappano said.

The SSBN inventory will include new boats that could experience early class problems and the oldest Ohios that could be at higher risk of component failure, Pappano said.

Further complicating the timeline is the test program for the next naval strategic weapons, the Trident II D5 Life Extension II missiles, which will need to test on both classes, Pappano said.

The new missiles would initially appear on the ninth Columbia boat and continue to the twelfth, while the previous eight submarines in the class would receive a backfit, Pappano said. The program is designed to replace obsolete components in the missiles and extend their lives into the 2060s.

The first pre-inactivation restricted availabilities (PIRAs) could start as early as Fiscal Year 2029 for USS Alaska (SSBN-732), Pappano said. The Navy will decide whether to move ahead with the PIRAs by 2025 or 2026 to secure the long-lead materials for the effort based on a long-established process, said Rear. Adm. Doug Perry, the director of submarine warfare for the Office of Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV N97)

“The process for evaluating a submarine for a life extension is a very standardized process,” he said.
“Every submarine, as it approaches a retirement date, we direct a review of the material condition of that ship. And we gather data. You’re looking at all the historical data of every component on the ship – the components, and the material maintenance that’s been done over the years. We bring that into a database and review.”

Key to the future work of extending the life of the Ohio SSBNs are the four Ohio nuclear guided-missile submarines, or SSGNs, the oldest in the class.

The Navy extended the class from an initial 30-year service life to 42 years. The first two from the class, USS Ohio (SSGN-726) and USS Florida (SSGN-728), are set to depart the service in FY 2026, followed by the other three boats that were converted to carry Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles rather than Trident missiles with nuclear warheads.

Pappano said that as the four SSGNs begin to leave service the Navy would conduct destructive testing on its systems to get a better idea of how much life the other Ohio boats can get and see what it can strip from the decommissioned boats for parts.

As to the broader Columbia program, the construction is largely on schedule with very little margin for error, Pappano told reporters.

A six-month buffer the Navy built into the planned construction schedule is down to a single month due to a combination of COVID-19 delays and early hiccups with the digital design systems shipyards used by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News to build the submarines, Pappano said.

Moving ahead, the Navy and the shipbuilders estimate they need to produce about 10,000 new shipyard workers each year over the next decade to meet the demand of not only building the dozen planned Columbia boats, but also to deliver two Virginia-class attack submarines a year.

Earlier this year, Pappano singled out the submarine workforce as the single largest barrier to meeting the schedule for new submarine construction.

“For many years, we left that [training] to the contractors. We don’t have that luxury anymore,” he said in August.

Keeping Strategic Weapons Programs Funded Biggest Threat to U.S. Nuclear Triad, Says Panel

The biggest threat to modernizing the nuclear triad is to keep sustained modernization funding over multiple years and presidential administrations, a panel of national security experts told a key Senate panel on Tuesday. The Air Force and the Navy are in the midst of replacing major decades old era strategic weapons programs. The Air Force […]

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at 1:13 a.m. Pacific Time on Oct. 2, 2019. US Air Force Photo

The biggest threat to modernizing the nuclear triad is to keep sustained modernization funding over multiple years and presidential administrations, a panel of national security experts told a key Senate panel on Tuesday.

The Air Force and the Navy are in the midst of replacing major decades old era strategic weapons programs. The Air Force is replacing the 1970s era Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile as part of the $100 billion Sentinel program, according to Defense News. The Navy has begun construction of the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine to replace its 1980s Ohio-class SSBNs.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Madelyn Creedon, who chairs the congressionally-created Strategic Posture Commission, said, a difficult time lays ahead to keep programs like the Columbia-class ballistic submarine program on track while retiring the fleet of Ohio-class boomers.

Creedon said she believes the commitment to modernize has support in Congress, the administration and the public now.

These programs must also factor in inflation over the years it will take to modernize platforms, systems and infrastructure, she and the other panelists agreed.

Creedon added that these “future systems must be modular” to adapt to changed threats over decades.

Discounting claims that the across-the-board modernization programs – including recruitment and retention in the work force – is creating a new arms race, Eric Edelman, the director of the United States Institute of Peace, quoted Carter administration Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who commented that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union kept building even when the U.S. did not. This quote now also applies to China’s and Russia’s continued advanced on their strategic forces, Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon and North Korea’s insistence that the world accept Pyongyang as a nuclear power.

Looking at where the United States is now, Rose Gottemoeller, also on the commission and a lecturer on international studies at Stanford University, added “we need to rebuild out industrial capacity” in the private and public sectors to again produce platforms, missiles and warheads that haven’t been built in decades.

Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN-734) gold crew returns to its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, following a strategic deterrence patrol on Jan. 11, 2020. US Navy Photo

“We have to talk about” lost skills “in shipbuilding, submarine building, missile building,” from welders to engineers to carry the U.S. into the future, Edelman said.

“We must watch very carefully” Russia’s compliance with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, due to expire in 2026, in terms of warheads and delivery systems, Goettemoeller said. Since they have been producing these for years, “they could easily outrun us,” throwing into question the United States’ ability to deter Moscow and Beijing from attempting a first strike on the homeland or allies in a crisis.

On China, “we don’t exactly [know] where they’re going” with the nuclear programs beyond the speed it developed its own triad, Gottemoeller added. Since Beijing is not a party to START or any other arms control agreements, she said Washington “must convince them of the value of nuclear restraint.”

Franklin Miller, a principal in the Scowcroft Group, warned that treaties “are not [a] substitute for deterrence.”

“Often we are tempted to think that Xi [Jin-ping] and [Vladimir] Putin think like us,” he said.

That line of thinking must shift to “what would deter them” in a crisis and what do they hold valuable, like retaining power or a capital that could be destroyed in an American retaliatory strike, he said.

Miller added that in this changed strategic environment United States strategic planners cannot rule out China and Russia collaborating in a nuclear crisis, meaning Washington must be ready to deter both simultaneously. That translates into having in place a solid continuity of government structure and a resilient nuclear command and control system. He and Edelman cited the advances China has made in its fractional orbit hypersonic bombardment system as an example of a potential attack with very little warning to American government continuity and nuclear command and control.

Since it is a maneuverable cruise missile, Miller said, “we wouldn’t know where it is going.”

Other panelists, all speaking for themselves, cited China’s and Russia’s anti-satellite weapons, their pursuit of artificial intelligence and machine learning in weapons systems and other technologies to eliminate a retaliatory strike.

“We’ve allowed command and control to wither” over the years, Miller said.

In this regard, he suggested adding a nuclear sea-based cruise missile to augment the ballistic missile submarine program and air-breathing systems as a deterrent that sends a reassuring message to allies who face shorter range nuclear threats from Russia and China. The Biden earlier this year administration cancelled a Pentagon effort to develop a sea-launched cruise missile.

“I don’t think [building these missiles] creates any arms race” because Moscow and Beijing already have large numbers of these platforms in their arsenals, he said.

“We don’t have to have parity” in numbers of warheads and delivery systems, but the United States “needs to have enough to hold what [Russia and China] value at risk,” Miller added.

Growing Work Force Largest Challenge to Columbia-Class Sub Programs, Says Navy Official

Having the right work force is the biggest challenge affecting the Columbia-class ballistic submarine program’s ability to stay on schedule, the Navy’s senior officer in charge of strategic submarines said Wednesday. Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, speaking at an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event, said, “we need skilled trades feeding our industrial base.” He added […]

Artist’s rendering of the Columbia-class SSBN submarine. US Navy Image

Having the right work force is the biggest challenge affecting the Columbia-class ballistic submarine program’s ability to stay on schedule, the Navy’s senior officer in charge of strategic submarines said Wednesday.

Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, speaking at an Air Force Association Mitchell Institute event, said, “we need skilled trades feeding our industrial base.”

He added it was important that the two submarine shipbuilders General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding train more welders, electricians, riggers and other yard workers. They also need to work with local schools in developing curriculums that show high school and community college students there are good-paying careers available in their shipyards.

“For many years, we left that [training] to the contractors. We don’t have that luxury any more,” he said.

From the Navy’s end, that means being able to say with conviction this is what the sea service is buying with these contracts over this amount of time, Pappano said.

“It is a challenge to get the work force” now and into the future as the yards ramp up to build two Virginia-class subs and meet their commitments for Columbia.
“This is a significant ramp-up.”

Modernizing the nuclear triad “is the most important we are doing” and that includes weapons like the latest Trident II D 5 missiles, shore infrastructure and laboratories, Pappano said. He noted that the ballistic missile submarine force carries about 70 percent of the nation’s nuclear triad and is the most survivable.

The Chinese have made great strides in building its own nuclear triad to include ballistic missile submarines as the Kremlin modernized its nuclear forces, Pappano said.

His job is to build up, as well as sustain, the nuclear submarine force, where the United States maintains a competitive edge over competitors like Beijing and Moscow, he said.

He echoed comments made at the keel-laying of the future USS District of Columbia in June that it will serve into the 2080s. It will not need to return to a shipyard for a refueling that could remove it from service for a prolonged period. The 12 in the class will be the largest submarines built. A decision about a 13th or 14th Columbia-class submarine has not been made, Pappano said.

The construction is divided between Connecticut and Virginia with final assembly at Electric Boat’s New England facilities. They are to replace 14 Ohio class subs that first entered the fleet in the 1980s.

Pappano said another challenge with Columbia is that neither yards nor the Navy have done missile testing on building sites for two decades, but there is still two years to iron out details and resolve issues.

At the same time, he also has to ensure bases like Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., are ready to do re-fitting work on the new class and also to train crews that will serve on the Columbias.

Pappano admitted “we’re kind of in uncharted waters” when it comes to surface life extension programs for selected Ohio-class submarines. Instead of the 30-year service life expected when built, some Ohio class will actually serve more than 40 to provide a strategic cushion in the transition to Columbia and it’s “heel-to-toe” construction and delivery schedule.”

He added the Navy and shipyards will be able to take lessons they learned from earlier conversions of Ohio-class submarines to guided missile vessels [SSGN].

Pappano said the Navy’s approach to large projects like ballistic missile submarines building and conversion is to move away from MIL SPECS [detailed specifications on building] to being more software driven “to keep pace with industry” and being “hardware agnostic.”

When asked about building Australia’s nuclear attack submarines at an American or United Kingdom yard, he said an 18-month study is only half completed.

Poppano said the additional work in for an Aussie sub would put pressure on the yards to keep their delivery schedules for Columbias to the U.S. Navy and new U.K. Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines to the Royal Navy.

GAO Report on Risk in Defense Industrial Base

The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach. From the report The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the industrial base—the companies that develop […]

The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach.

From the report

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet
have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the
industrial base—the companies that develop and manufacture technologies and
weapon systems for DOD. The office is using a combination of four previously
issued reports that were created for other requirements because it devoted its resources to completing other priorities. Collectively, the reports do not include several elements GAO has previously identified that would help DOD achieve results, evaluate progress, and ensure accountability.

DOD must update its industrial base strategy following the submission of the next National Security Strategy Report, which is expected to be issued later in 2022. By including all elements in a consolidated strategy, DOD could better ensure that all appropriate organizations are working toward the same priorities, promoting supply chain resiliency, and supporting national security objectives.

DOD is carrying out numerous efforts to mitigate risks to the industrial base. This includes more than $1 billion in reported efforts under Navy submarine and destroyer programs and $125 million to sustain a domestic microelectronics manufacturer. However, DOD has limited insight into the effectiveness of these efforts and how much progress it has made addressing risks.

GAO Image

For example:

  • The Industrial Base Policy office and military services have not
    established enterprise-wide performance measures to monitor the
    aggregate effectiveness of DOD’s mitigation efforts.
  • DOD’s annual Industrial Capabilities Reports do not include information
    about the progress the department has made in mitigating risks.

GAO’s prior work on enterprise risk management establishes that agencies
should monitor and report on the status and effectiveness of their risk mitigation efforts. Without key monitoring and reporting information, DOD and Congress do not have sufficient information to help determine whether industrial base risks have been mitigated and what additional resources or actions may be needed.

Download document here.

Navy FY 2023 Budget Highlights Book

The following is the Fiscal Year 2023 Department of the Navy budget highlights book. From the report Overview The United States is a maritime nation: our security and prosperity depend on the seas. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has built and advanced a rules-based international system through shared commitments with our […]

The following is the Fiscal Year 2023 Department of the Navy budget highlights book.

From the report

Overview

The United States is a maritime nation: our security and prosperity depend on the seas. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has built and advanced a rules-based international system through shared commitments with our allies and partners. Free and open access to the world’s oceans ensure the delivery of the resources required to protect America’s economy and security. Today, competitors and adversaries challenge our nations’ prosperity and security. For over 200 years, our Navy and Marine Corps team has safeguarded our territorial waters and lands, as well as projected power across the globe to protect the interests of the U.S. and its allies. In recent years, major strategic competitors to the U.S. and its allies have grown in capability and capacity, challenging the rules based order while forging closer ties with each other. These developments threaten to rebalance global power and influence, creating a more hostile international order, reinforcing the need for a potent, integrated, forward-maneuverable Navy and Marine Corps as a key contributor to the joint force and the preservation of rules-based international order. Seapower’s strength comes from its inherent and pervasive mobility, self-reliance, survivability, and distributability: our ability to strategically position overwhelming lethal naval force across the globe poses a uniquely effective deterrent to adversaries. Strategic competition with China and Russia takes on more of a military nature with each passing year. As Russia invades Ukraine, positioning overwhelming military force in and around Ukraine on land and in the Black Sea, China continues to menace Taiwan and other countries in the region. Both countries continue advancements in weapons Introduction 2022 1-2 FY 2023 Department of the Navy Budget technology, and China in particular is building all domain capabilities at a capacity to challenge U.S. influence in the Pacific. America needs a flexible, forward deployed, engaged fleet that keeps the seas open and free, generates credible deterrence at sea, and provides quick response options for U.S. leadership. It needs to be a fleet that can control the seas and project power across all domains at a time and place of our choosing. For the Department of the Navy, our mission is to deliver combat ready naval forces to campaign, deter, and as necessary, win conflicts and wars while we accelerate the development of a modernized, integrated all-domain naval force for the future. To overcome threats and achieve this mission we must maintain maritime dominance by strengthening our strategic partnerships and empowering our incredible warfighters.

The Department continues to optimize resources to develop, produce, field, operate, and maintain capabilities in support of the Joint Force. The budget builds on the Secretary of Defense’s vision of integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages, with an agile and ready force. The budget is aligned with the Secretary of the Navy’s priorities of strengthening maritime dominance in defense of our nation, empowering our warfighters, and strengthening strategic partnerships. The budget builds on the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 to modernize the expeditionary posture of the Marine Corps. The budget implements the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan to expand our fleet capabilities for distributed operations. The budget prioritizes Columbia class construction, a strategic deterrent, and balances readiness, capability, and capacity across the near term and future. President’s Budget 2023 (PB23) continues investments in more lethal, networked capabilities and concepts, integrated with the joint force. It funds critical warfighter training and education to grow talent, build resilience, and ensure an environment of accountability. The budget covers a once-in-a-century requirement to recapitalize our national ship repair infrastructure as part of our Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program. Finally, this budget continues reformative efforts throughout the Department, maintaining fiscal accountability and propriety of taxpayer dollars.

Download the document here.

Department of the Navy Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Materials

The following are the Fiscal Year 2023 budget materials from the Department of the Navy and an unclassified summary of the 2022 National Defense Strategy released tandem March 28, 2022, with the FY 2023 Presidential Budget. The Navy is expected to release more detailed budget material that have been delayed from the initial release. From […]

The following are the Fiscal Year 2023 budget materials from the Department of the Navy and an unclassified summary of the 2022 National Defense Strategy released tandem March 28, 2022, with the FY 2023 Presidential Budget. The Navy is expected to release more detailed budget material that have been delayed from the initial release.

From the reports

The Department of the Navy’s (DON) FY 2023 President’s Budget (PB23) request is $230.8B, an increase of $9.1B from the FY 2022 enacted budget (with supplementals). The budget is aligned with the draft National Security Strategy and defense priorities. It resources a Navy and Marine Corps Team that supports Secretary Austin’s vision of integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages, with an agile and ready joint force. Moreover, Secretary of the Navy Del Toro’s enduring priorities of strengthening maritime dominance in defense of our nation, empowering our people, and strengthening strategic partnerships is nested under this guidance and resourced to achieve these effects.

Soundly aligned with strategy, the budget implements concepts articulated in the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan to expand our fleet capabilities for distributed operations while building upon the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 to rapidly modernize the expeditionary posture of the Marine Corps.

The budget prioritizes Columbia Class construction and balances readiness, capability, capacity across the near term and future. PB23 continues investments in more lethal, networked capabilities and concepts, integrated with the joint force. It funds critical warfighter training and education to grow talent, build resilience, and ensure an environment of accountability. The budget covers a once-in-a-century requirement to recapitalize our national ship repair infrastructure as part of our Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP). Finally, this budget continues reformative efforts throughout the Department, maintaining fiscal accountability and propriety of taxpayer dollars.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Provides for a deployable battle force of 285 ships in FY 2023.
  • Procures 9 battle force ships in FY 2023 (2 SSN 774, 2 DDG 51, 1 FFG, 1 LHA-6, 1 LPD-17, 1 T-AO 205, and 1 T-ATS-6) and 51 over the FYDP. Funds 4 other construction efforts (2 LCAC SLEPS and 2 ship-to-shore connectors).
  • Aircraft procurement funds 96 fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and unmanned aircraft in FY 2023 (13 F-35C, 15 F-35B, 5 E-2D, 10 METS, 5 KC-130J, 10 CH-53K, 26 TH-73A, 3 MQ-4C, 4 MQ-25, 5 MQ-9A) and 420 over the FYDP.
  • Funds Force Design priorities of USMC equipment modernization, talent management reform, and training and education reform to optimize the force for naval expeditionary warfare in the maritime littorals supporting Fleet operations.
  • R&D funds science and technology efforts and develops key technologies including advanced and networked weapons, unmanned systems, hypersonics, cyber technology, and Columbia class submarines.
  • Readiness funds improve over FY 2022: ship maintenance ($11.3B)/98% of requirement; ship operations ($6.5B)/96% of requirement and 58 days deployed/qtr & 24 days non-deployed/qtr; flying hours ($10.1B)/91% of requirement; air depot maintenance ($1.7B)/87% of requirement; USMC ground equipment ($0.2B)/80% of requirement; and facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization ($4.9B)/85% (Navy sustainment) & 56% (USMC sustainment) of requirement.
  • Funds a 4.6% pay increase for both military and civilian personnel.
  • Military construction ($3.8B) funds 28 projects (15 Active Navy/13 Active MC), Planning and Design, and Unspecified Minor Construction for Guam buildup, shipyards, DON Posture, Darwin, Training, Quality of Life, and new platforms.
  • Family housing ($706M) funds 3 construction/1 improvement projects and maintains 8,800 government owned units.
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response ($240M) funds violence prevention program including staffing and training enhancements to improve four lines of effort: accountability, prevention, climate and culture, and victim care and support.
  • Training and Education ($3.5B) funds enhancements for naval warfighting capabilities, the flagship institutions, and modernization of training curriculum.

Download the document here.

Navy: Year-Long CR Would Lead to $500M Shortfall for Columbia-class Submarine

The Navy is facing a $500 million shortfall for its Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program if the government is forced to operate under a year-long continuing resolution, a service official told reporters on Tuesday. The service’s fiscal management director on the chief of naval operations (N82) staff today forecasted a list of ramifications for the […]

Artist’s rendering of the Columbia-class SSBN submarine. US Navy Image

The Navy is facing a $500 million shortfall for its Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program if the government is forced to operate under a year-long continuing resolution, a service official told reporters on Tuesday.

The service’s fiscal management director on the chief of naval operations (N82) staff today forecasted a list of ramifications for the Navy – ranging from decreased aircraft and weapons procurement to not giving sailors a raise – if lawmakers pass a year-long CR for Fiscal Year 2022.

“On the industrial base, there’s no … sector that’s not going to be impacted. So if you’re in the ship construction business, you know, Columbia is going to receive a half a billion dollars less money,” Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the Navy’s deputy assistant secretary for budget, said in a conference call with reporters

The Columbia-class program – which will replace the Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines – has long been described as the Navy’s top acquisition priority and has little margin for error to start strategic deterrence patrols as the Ohio boats start to leave service.

“That’s our you know, what, number one priority program for the last several years and the margins are tight, and here we are, we’re going to fund it less a half a billion to plan. So yes, that has the very much potential to impact that schedule,” Gumbleton said. “Now we know that first boat’s going to deliver a few years out, so hopefully there’ll be an opportunity to make this up and hopefully we won’t have a year-long CR. But it’s already a stressed, low-margin program so that would not be positive.”

The Pentagon is operating under the second CR this fiscal year – which is keeping the government funded through Feb. 18. Under a CR, the Pentagon’s funding is limited to the prior fiscal year’s levels and it cannot spend money on new-start programs.

Gumbleton described a list of other consequences for the Navy should it have to operate under a year-long CR, including cuts to weapons programs for which the Navy planned to increase the quantity in FY 2022.

“Because it’s a new start, we would not be able to begin the next hull on the frigate. Some additional new starts are the T-AGOS ship, our intent to buy three used sealift ships, an oiler and two Ship to Shore Connectors. So those are all examples of things that are not going to happen,” Gumbleton said.

“On the aviation front, we had intended to buy seven additional [Joint Strike Fighters] and six MQ-9 Predators for the Marine Corps and advance their force plan initiatives. These things are not going to happen in a year-long CR,” he added. “Then on the weapons front, it’s multiple weapons that have increased order quantity – whether we’re talking about JASSMs, Evolved Sea Sparrow, Naval Strike Missile, the Joint Air-Ground Missile – all these weapons systems that our industrial base was planning to buy or manufacture for us that we’re planning to have in our inventory, are not going to happen. So that’s just a quick rundown of industrial base issues that … in a year-long CR will be impacted.”

Naval Aircrewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Ancent Devera, a native of Honolulu, Hawaii conducts a dry rope exercise with Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG-106) while flying in an MH-60S Knight Hawk, assigned to ‘The Black Knights’ of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 4, Dec. 18, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Navy is also looking at a $2.5 billion shortfall in its operations and maintenance account because it’s limited to the FY 2021 levels, Gumbleton said, meaning that under a year-long CR, the service would not be able to perform maintenance availabilities on two aircraft carriers and five submarines. It would also have to cut flying hours for the Navy and Marine Corps.

“And so what does that mean? Where are we going to take risk? So We’re going to specifically not take risk in our forward-deployed forces right now. But because we’re already half-way – you know, we’re four-and-a-half months through the fiscal year and potentially we won’t know until six months – we are continuing to spend the money like we have it because we’ve been here before,” he said. “So if it does turn into a year-long CR, the dramatic impacts would be we would not do maintenance on five submarines and two aircraft carriers. And we would reduce the flying hour counts to all our pilots – Navy and Marine Corps – by 10 or 20 percent in the last quarter and a half of the fiscal year.”

Gumbleton said he’s been urging the fleet to operate as if the Department of the Navy is not under a continuing resolution, so the cuts would need to come from the maintenance side of the operations and maintenance account.

“I have directed our fleet and Fleet Marine Force to actually conduct your operations as if we are not going to be in a CR. We are not going to slow down. And so that’s why we have this dramatic impact on our operations and maintenance should we have that result come to fruition here sometime in April, for example. And so, therefore, our dramatic changes to absorb that $2.5 billion less value is we would have to not do those – work on those submarines, the five of them.”

As for the personnel account, Gumbleton said that under an extended CR the Navy has $1.5 billion less in FY 2022 for payroll, meaning it would need to slash the number of new sailors it recruits from the planned 31,000 down to 8,000. The service would also have to eliminate 37,000 permanent change of station moves and not issue the pay raises Congress passed in the FY 2022 policy bill.

“The ones we want to entice to stay in, we’re going to offer a bonus, but we won’t be able to do that here,” Gumbleton said of retention bonuses for sailors. “And so if you’re that second class petty officer, you’re coming up at the end of your enlistment and you thought you might be competitive for a reenlistment bonus, well that would not be the case.”

Under new-start programs for FY 2022, Gumbleton said the Navy has 10 research and development programs, ten procurement programs and 12 military construction projects it that could not commence under a CR.

The Navy’s research and development account is also looking at $2.5 billion less for FY 2022 compared to FY 2021, according to Gumbleton.

“And so the Navy and Marine Corps will be forced with a very hard decision should we have a year-long CR. That increased funding – which is [an] 11 percent increase from one year to the next – the dramatic rise in those programs was to pay for Conventional Prompt Strike, new design SSN, and some classified programs,” he said. “And so the Navy/Marine Corps would have to choose – do we stay true to our priorities that we want to invest in for the future fight to maintain our modernization efforts to maintain our competitive advantage over China – and/or what programs will we cut the balance at $2.5 billion?”

Lawmakers have until Feb. 18 to either pass the FY 2022 appropriations bills or a new continuing resolution.

House Armed Services Committee vice-chair Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) recently said the budget negotiations for FY 2022 are “tied up in a very political fight of saying, ‘we need to maintain the spending levels of the last administration,’ i.e. we need to not put more in these social programs, but that’s locking in DOD at the point that they’re at, but doing that via a CR is disastrous.”

The Navy can send over a list of anomalies – or waivers – to Congress when it’s operating under a CR, but the service has been quiet the last few months as to whether it’s seeking any anomalies. Asked what anomalies the service is sending over, Gumbleton declined to detail the Navy’s request, but later said the service is “considering anomalies.”

“The last thing we want to do is actually show how we can actually live with a CR that lasts 12 months. We absolutely don’t want to do this and so to actually seek anomalies or workaround for a system that’s supposed to work so that we can, again, maintain our strategic rivalry with China, don’t break trust with our sailors and Marines, and not disrupt the industrial base, is incongruent,” he said.

General Dynamics CEO Says Electric Boat Ready To Meet ‘Increased Demand’ for Submarines

General Dynamics is equipped to meet the Navy’s “increased demand” for submarines, the company’s chief executive officer told investors on Wednesday. With a multi-billion dollar contract for the Virginia Block V program, the company’s Marine Systems business hit revenue records in Fiscal Year 2020. While the Trump administration forecasted more submarine work in the coming […]

USS Vermont (SSN-792) transits the Thames River while conducting routine operations on Oct. 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

General Dynamics is equipped to meet the Navy’s “increased demand” for submarines, the company’s chief executive officer told investors on Wednesday.

With a multi-billion dollar contract for the Virginia Block V program, the company’s Marine Systems business hit revenue records in Fiscal Year 2020. While the Trump administration forecasted more submarine work in the coming years, it’s unclear if the new Biden administration will continue on the same shipbuilding path. But with the Columbia-class program now under construction at Electric Boat, General Dynamics anticipates more growth in the next few years.

CEO Phebe Novakovic said in an earnings call that, for the fourth quarter of FY 2020, the company’s Marine Systems group saw $2.9 billion in revenue, which is a 11.4 percent increase from the fourth quarter of FY 2019.

Revenue for the maritime group in FY 2020 came in at nearly $10 billion, which Novakovic said is an 8.7 percent increase compared to FY 2019.

“This is the highest quarterly and full-year earnings ever for the marine group. In our mid-year guidance to you, we anticipated revenues about $9.6 billion and operating earnings of $845 million. We came in above that for both revenue and earnings,” Novakovic said.

“In response to significant increased demand from our Navy customer that you can see in these results, we continue to invest in each of our yards, particularly at Electric Boat, to prepare for [Virginia-class submarine] Block V and the new Columbia ballistic missile submarine,” she continued. “So suffice it to say that we’re poised to support our Navy customer as they increase the size of their fleet and deliver value to our shareholders as we work through this very large backlog and improve our return on invested capital.”

In October, Novakovic said the company was not yet preparing for the Navy to purchase three Virginia-class attack submarines per year, an objective former Defense Secretary Mark Esper called for earlier that month when summarizing his Battle Force 2045 fleet architecture.

Since then, the Trump White House unveiled a FY 2022 shipbuilding blueprint that would direct the Navy to buy three Virginia-class submarines a year. It remains unclear how the industrial base, which has never constructed three Virginia-class boats per year, could sustain that build rate while also constructing the Columbia-class submarines.

It’s also unclear what the new Biden administration plans to do with the previous administration’s shipbuilding plans.

At the start of FY 2021, the Navy issued Electric Boat a $9.47 billion contract modification to start building the lead ship in the Columbia class, which will replace the Ohio-class submarines. Electric Boat, along with Huntington Ingalls Industries’s Newport News Shipbuilding, is also on contract for Block V of the Virginia program.

Novakovic attributed 50 percent of the Marine Systems group’s growth in FY 2020 to the Columbia program and said she expects the group to see a revenue boost of $400 million to $500 million per year.

“And then that will continue to accelerate as we pull through more production. So in the moment, for 2021, as I alluded to in my remarks, the opportunity there is for increased revenue,” she said. “And that happens in the shipyards by increased throughput. We pull work in, depending on the work cadence, the schedule, the planning, the availability.”

Asked about the potential for flattening defense budgets, Novakovic pointed to the company’s steady business building the Navy’s submarines, destroyers and fleet oilers. She argued that General Dynamics is in a good position because the Navy has identified submarines as a crucial component of its strategy.

“So I’m quite confident that, given my belief that the defense budget is driven by the threat, that our key elements of our marine group growth will be nicely supported. We believe that the Navy will continue to need destroyers. The DDG-51 is proving to be a very versatile program, platform that can take additional missions,” Novakovic said.

“And then with our auxiliary yard out at NASSCO – you know, with the exception of the nuclear-powered carriers and nuclear submarines, all these Navy fleets need gas,” she continued. “And the gas needs to get there safely, fastly and pumped efficiently. And that’s our new oiler program.”

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.