The Pentagon is eyeing a 500-ship Navy, documents reveal

| September 26, 2020

Don’t go getting all excited that we’ll be pulling the Iowa-class out of mothballs again to rain shells the size of sedans down on our enemies. They’re talking 500 ships, a massive increase from the current goal of 355, but smaller ships. SECDEF Esper is even saying “lightly manned” ships that will eventually be unmanned.

I don’t see unmanned ships happening any time soon and the Navy is notoriously protective of their large, heavily manned ships. Remember the stealthy, lightly manned Sea Shadow experiment? Despite being a huge success, the Navy didn’t want to build it because nobody wants to be the captain of a boat with a crew of four. Warships need to be captained by officers, officers with rank and scrambled eggs on their caps and a four man crew wouldn’t even rate a chief petty officer.

The Pentagon’s upcoming recommendation for a future Navy is expected to call for a significant increase in the number of ships, with officials discussing a fleet as large as 530 hulls, according to documents obtained by Defense News.

Supporting documents to the forthcoming Future Navy Force Study reviewed by Defense News show the Navy moving towards a lighter force with many more ships but fewer aircraft carriers and large surface combatants. Instead, the fleet would include more small surface combatants, unmanned ships and submarines and an expanded logistics force.

Two groups commissioned by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to design what a future Navy should look like suggested fleets of anywhere from 480 to 534 ships, when manned and unmanned platforms are accounted for — at least a 35 percent increase in fleet size from the current target of 355 manned ships by 2030.

The numbers all come from an April draft of inputs to the Future Navy Force Study conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense. While the number will likely have changed somewhat in final recommendations recently sent to Esper, the plans being discussed in April are notable as they reflect what will likely be major shift in the Navy’s future — and the expectation is that a larger-than-planned Navy based on the concepts laid out in the documents will remain intact in the final analysis.

Esper himself hinted at that in comments last week. In a speech delivered at the think tank Rand, the secretary called for a Navy of “over 350 ships,” specifically by increasing the Navy’s shipbuilding funding account.

“In short, it will be a balanced force of over 350 ships — both manned and unmanned — and will be built in a relevant time frame and budget-informed manner,” he said.

Indeed, the fleet compositions presented in the inputs broadly reflect the concept of a lighter fleet more reliant on unmanned or lightly crewed vessels that Esper described to Defense News in a February interview.

“One of the ways you get [to a larger fleet] quickly is moving toward lightly manned [ships], which over time can be unmanned,” Esper said then. “We can go with lightly manned ships, get them out there. You can build them so they’re optionally manned and then, depending on the scenario or the technology, at some point in time they can go unmanned.”

Thanks to Jeff LPH for the tip. More at the source; Military Times

Category: Big Pentagon, Navy

Comments (9)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    “…pulling the Iowa-class out of mothballs…raining shells the size of sedans down on our enemies.” Be still my beating heart! Floating Artillery!

    Can you even use the term “lightly manned” in this day and age? Shouldn’t that be “lightly crewed”? Is this where that little putter tugboat looking thing we saw a little while back comes into play? It was cute, but no room for a 40 mike mike bofor. Or even a nice set of Quad .50s.

    More subs is a nice thought. Gotta be able to “see it” to kill it, and I doubt if ANYONE has the ASW Troops the caliber of ours. “Mad Man, Mad Man, smoke away!” “Torp dropped on active, my weapon is tracking.” “BOOM…gurgle…gurgle, BOOM (crush depth reached)” “Sir, my target is negated!”

    Do we even have something equivalent to the WWII PT Boats? Or an improved version? Seems like a fast, heavily armed, oversized ski boat would be the way to go. And sometimes it took being run over by a destroyer type enemy vessel to take one out.

    Either way, whatever we do to increase and improve our military is OK in my book. I don’t want my Grandchildren living under the heel of foreign despots.

  2. George V says:

    Hmmmm… I’m suspicious on a couple of levels. First, the idea of smaller ships, smaller crews led to the Littoral Combat Ship, LCS, which from what I’ve read is very limited in capability compared to similar sized ships of the past.

    Second, smaller crews means that when the ship is fighting there are no extra bodies to do things like fight fires, break out dewatering pumps, or other work to reduce the impact of battle damage so the ship can survive.

    Obviously an unmanned ship, damage control just ain’t gonna happen.

    • Slow Joe says:

      When you dive into unmanned systems, you make the decision to either completely automate damage control or to make the system disposable.

  3. Slow Joe says:

    So, we are not building the fleet of tomorrow, the one that will contain China, and will likely be unmanned, because nobody wants to captain that?

    Pleez. Fire the mofers.

  4. NHSparky says:

    Maybe we could start by training the folks to competently drive the ships we have?

    • KoB says:

      Ouch! NHSparky, that’s gonna leave a mark. Leave it to a Fire-Man to bring the BURN!

      Welcome Home, glad you and yours are safe. We keep you, TOW, Fyrfighter, and all the rest in our smoke signals going up to Man Above.

  5. A Landmesser says:

    The fewer the crew the less the redundancy, or a ship that will not survive combat. So is what is being proposed a show fleet, not meant to fight? So all those new diversity candidates can have a captain’s slot? Why not focus on what the priorities of the fleet will be an design the fleet around that. Failure to do so results in the distortions the Royal Navy faced on the eve of WW2.