Pentagon’s New Plan for a 500-Ship Navy Fleet by 2045

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In October 2020, the SecDef detailed an aggressive new plan to significantly boost the Navy fleet to more than 500 vessels, with an emphasis on attack submarines, unmanned ships and “light carriers.”

Coined Battle Force 2045, the future fleet will eventually include more than 500 manned and unmanned ships, making it a “more lethal, survivable, adaptable, sustainable, modern and larger force than we have seen in many years.”

The objective is to maintain our maritime superiority.

The buildup is necessary, citing China’s troubling and “brazen destabilizing” actions in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as Beijing’s plans to modernize its force in the next 15 years and field “a world-class military by 2049.”

The Navy, for generations, has been absolutely critical to national security and also the economic security of our country and will remain so in the future.

Battle Force 2045 includes seven big changes to the future Navy fleet. Here’s a look at what the military wants.

Pentagon’s New Plan for a 500-Ship Navy Fleet by 2045

1. A Bigger Sub Force

A top priority must be building a larger and more capable submarine force.

“The study reached a clear consensus on the need to rapidly increase attack submarines — the most survivable strike platform in future great power conflicts — to the range of 70 to 80 in the fleet,” he said. “If we do nothing else, the Navy must begin building three Virginia-class submarines a year as soon as possible.”

Plans also call for refueling the seventh Los Angeles-class submarine, and continuing to invest in the future attack submarine known as SSN(X).

2. Conventional and ‘Light’ Carriers

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers will remain the country’s most visible deterrent. But the Navy will also examine options for light carriers that support short-takeoff and vertical-landing aircraft.

“One model we’re considering is the [amphibious assault ship] America, that is equipped with more than a dozen F-35Bs,” Light carriers provide additional presence and capacity to carry out day-to-day missions and free up supercarriers for more critical, high-end fights.”

The Navy still needs to study the right mix it’ll need, but it is estimated the force will require between eight and 11 nuclear-powered flattops and six light carriers.

3. Up to 240 Drone Ships

The Navy will be investing big in unmanned or optionally manned platforms, making up between 140 and 240 of the future fleet’s ship count.

The ghost fleet, as it has been called, will carry out a variety of missions — from resupply and surveillance to minelaying and missile strikes.

The [unmanned surface vehicle] Sea Hunter prototype completed operations with the [destroyer] Russell, demonstrating that unmanned surface vehicles are technologically feasible and operationally valuable.

4. More Small-Surface Combatants

The Navy wants to add between 60 and 70 more small-surface combatants to the fleet.

As a preview of what’s to come, Esper pointed to the Navy’s $795 million contract award to a Wisconsin-based shipbuilder to design and build the first of the new guided-missile frigates.

This is the first new major shipbuilding program the Navy has sought in more than a decade and will support the full range of military options.

Pentagon’s New Plan for a 500-Ship Navy Fleet by 2045

5. Dozens of Combat Logistics Ships

Navy and Marine Corps leaders have stressed that deterring China will mean distributed operations in the Asia-Pacific region, in which ships are operating far apart from one another while sending small teams of Marines ashore.

To carry out those missions successfully, the Navy will likely need between 70 and 90 combat logistics ships.

Aside from sustaining the force, the department’s shipbuilding report will also address plans to get ground troops ashore “on time and with sufficient combat power.” Adversaries have made it tougher for ships to stay close to shore, leaving the Marine Corps challenged to get its forces onto land in contested environments.

6. Unmanned Aircraft at Sea

Future flight decks are going to be packed with drones.

The Navy must develop and deploy carrier-based unmanned aircraft of all types. This includes fighters, refuelers, early-warning and electronic-attack aircraft.

7. More Amphibs

The Marine Corps wants to spend more time at sea, and SecDef supports the service’s top general’s push to do so.

That’s going to result in a bigger gator Navy as the service invests in more amphibious ships to transport Marines around the world.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said that the Navy will need a bigger slice of the overall Pentagon budget to meet its future requirements.

The Navy must not sacrifice shipbuilding for maintenance. The Navy has faced challenges in terms of shipyard capacity and maintenance delays, which is considered the service’s Achilles heel.

The Navy Department must be allowed to ditch legacy systems and low-priority activities to redirect funding toward higher priorities.

The objective is to have as many ships continuously at sea as possible to maintain a high level of readiness.

Pentagon’s New Plan for a 500-Ship Navy Fleet by 2045

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