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SEPTEMBER 2020

Pentagon Report Calls For Fewer Aircraft Carriers, More USVs: Defense News

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Pentagon Report Calls For Fewer Aircraft Carriers, More USVs: Defense News

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The US Department of Defense is assessing that the Navy should cut two of its aircraft carriers from the fleet, and freeze the large surface combatant fleet of destroyers and cruisers around current levels.

In addition, the Navy should add a large number of unmanned or lightly manned warships to its inventory, according to documentation obtained by Defense News.

The study, according to Defense News, calls for a fleet of 9 aircraft carriers, down from the current 11, and for 65 unmanned or lightly manned surface vessels.

The surface force should also remain between 80 and 90 large surface combatants, and a significant increase in small surface warships to between 55 and 70.

The assessment is a push by the Pentagon to review the Navy structure, and repeats calls by US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper – to stop emphasizing on aircraft carriers as the most important piece in the US Navy as a means of force projection, and instead, emphasize on unmanned technologies that can be more easily sacrificed in a conflict and can achieve their missions more affordably.

None of this is officially confirmed.

“We will not comment on a DoD product that is pre-decisional,” said Navy Capt. Brook DeWalt.

A former Navy captain, and current analyst at Telemus Group, Jerry Hendrix commented on the report.

“The deployment models we set – and we’re still keeping – were developed around 15 carriers so that would all fall apart,” Hendrix said, referring to standing carrier presence requirements in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. “This would be reintroducing reality. A move like this would signal a new pattern for the Navy’s deployments that moves away from presence and moves towards surge and exercise as a model for carrier employment.”

Esper has taken a keen interest in Navy force structure, telling Defense News in March that he had directed the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), along with the Navy, to conduct a series of war games and exercises in the coming months of 2020, to figure out a way to focus on a lighter Navy.

“I think once we go through this process with the future fleet — that’ll really be the new foundation, the guiding post,” Esper told Defense News. “It’ll give us the general direction we need to go, and I think that’ll be a big game changer in terms of future fleet, for structure, for the Navy and Marine Corps team.”

Regarding the aircraft carriers, Mark Esper said that he saw a lot of value in keeping them as part of the Navy.

“This discussion often comes down to a binary: Is it zero or 12?” Esper said. “First of all, I don’t know. I think carriers are very important. I think they demonstrate American power, American prestige. They get people’s attention. They are a great deterrent. They give us great capability.”

Esper said that the Navy just needed to focus in integrating unmanned and lighter combatant technology in its ranks more than anything.

“What we have to tease out is, what does that future fleet look like?” Esper said. “I think one of the ways you get there quickly is moving toward lightly manned [ships], which over time can be unmanned.

“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.

“To me that’s where we need to push. We need to push much more aggressively. That would allow us to get our numbers up quickly, and I believe that we can get to 355, if not higher, by 2030.”

This is specifically aimed against possible confrontation against China, as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said in 2019.

“I know that the future fleet has to include a mix of unmanned,” Gilday said. “We can’t continue to wrap $2 billion ships around 96 missile tubes in the numbers we need to fight in a distributed way, against a potential adversary that is producing capability and platforms at a very high rate of speed. We have to change the way we are thinking.”

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