The US Navy’s new Force Structure Assessment states that the “potential adversaries” have developed advanced capabilities that could “undermine” or “erode” the US military’s edge in conventional warfare at sea.
The Navy’s answer to the rising challenge is more ships. To be precise, 83 more of them.
The Navy requested the biggest increases in large surface combat ships, attack submarines, amphibious warfare ships, and an additional Ford-class aircraft carrier.
“A minimum of 12 Aircraft Carriers are required to meet the increased warfighting response requirements,” read the Navy’s assessment.
The US Navy operates more aircraft carriers (full on carriers or “helicopter carriers”) than all the world’s navies combined, but 2016 has seen threats rising to US forces around the globe.
For perhaps the first time ever, US Navy guided-missile destroyers had to fire interceptor missiles when Houthi militants in Yemen targeted them with anti-ship cruise missiles. Iran has also shown increasing hostility to US Navy ships in the Persian Gulf.
In the Pacific, China has continued to develop military installations on artificial islands in the South China Sea. While incoming President Trump has promised to shake up relations with Beijing, China has responded angrily by flying bombers in the South China Sea and by seizing an unmanned US Navy drone from international waters near the Philippines.
Meanwhile Russia has used the conflict in Syria to show off its naval might, by sending the Admiral Kuznetsov carrier group to the Mediterranean, where reportedly one of its submarines stalked a US carrier group.
DefenseNews.com notes that the Navy would have to come up with another carrier wing to support the additional carrier, and cites sources as saying today’s Navy of nearly 324,000 uniformed personnel would have to grow to about 340,000 to 350,000.
Interestingly, the assessment calls for 355 ships, when earlier, hawkish observers, like Trump’s supposed favourite for secretary of the Navy, Randy Forbes, had been calling for just 350. Today the Navy stands at 272 ships.
But the assessment is only that — an assessment. The Navy will have to get its budget approved by the legislature, and it’s unclear so far if the Trump administration will support the 355 figure.
“As we evaluate the options presented in these studies and move to include them in our plans for tomorrow’s Navy,” current Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said to DefenseNews, “this FSA will need to be updated to reflect those changes that are determined to be most beneficial to meeting the Navy’s missions of the future.”
However, even the bullish 355 ships assessment wouldn’t meet all of the security goals the Navy’s combat commanders put forth, with Mabus saying doing so would require the US “to double its current annual budget, which is essentially unrealistic in both current and expected future fiscal environments.”
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