The Navy needs a vastly larger fleet — 414 warships — to win a great-power war, well above today’s 274 ships or even the Navy’s unfunded plan for 355, the think-tank MITRE calculates in a congressionally-chartered study. That ideal fleet would include:
14 aircraft carriers instead of today’s 11;
160 cruisers and destroyers instead of 84;
72 attack submarines instead of today’s 52;
New classes ranging from a missile-packed “magazine ship,” to diesel-powered submarines, to a heavy frigate to replace the Littoral Combat Ship, which would be cancelled.
The CSBA and an internal US Navy study recommend 12 aircraft carriers, but the CSBA also wants ten smaller aircraft carriers The CSBA wants 340 manned ships and 80 unmanned, MITRE says 414 manned ships, and the the Alternative Future Fleet wants 321 manned ships and 138 unmanned.
The MITRE plan is even more radical than the competing plan submitted to Congress by the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments. Although both studies would grow the fleet, upgrade the America-class amphibious assault ship into a conventionally powered light carrier, cancel LCS, and build a new frigate, MITRE calls for a larger force overall and more new types of ship.
Building a 414-ship fleet “is unrealistic,” MITRE acknowledges, even assuming the Budget Control Act is repealed. So the study lays out what MITRE considers a good-enough plan to build and upgrade as many ships as possible for an additional $4.5 billion a year ($1.7 billion in shipbuilding funds and $2.8 billion for new weapons, mostly missiles).
This good-enough plan includes many compromises. Most notably, it slows down the production of aircraft carriers in the near term — even though MITRE believes we ultimately need more — because the Navy doesn’t have enough fighter jets to equip them all, and an aircraft carrier without aircraft is pretty pointless. To close the airpower gap, MITRE advocates buying more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, since it believes “accelerating F-35C (Joint Strike Fighter) production does not appear to be a viable option.”
MITRE argues against today’s reliance on a small number of exquisitely expensive long-range missiles for anti-aircraft and missile defense. Instead MITRE advocates large barrages of precision-guided shells fired from conventional naval cannon — known as the Hyper-Velocity Projectile — and ultimately from electromagnetic railguns. Fielding HVP “must be a top priority” because it would turn the 5″ guns on every Navy cruiser and destroyer into missile defense systems.
- The U.S. and its allies have maintained a decisive technological advantage for more than 40 years, but this advantage is rapidly disappearing as the guided missile age reaches full maturity. Missile speeds, elusiveness, and precision – for example – all continue to increase. Coastal defense missile batteries can cover a radius of 700 or 800 miles today, compared to 70 or 80 miles just a few years ago. Supersonic anti-ship missiles that currently travel at Mach 2 will be supplanted by hypersonic missiles that will travel at speeds well in excess of Mach 5. As the costs of these weapons become increasingly inexpensive, they will continue to proliferate and adversary inventories will continue to increase.
- Advances in sensor technology, including new passive and active methods, and its commercialization enable detection and targeting at extreme ranges. Weapons with extended ranges are not fully effective unless an adversary can also identify targets at these ranges. In the past, nations spent enormous resources to build sensing capabilities that are commercially available today. For example, BlackSky plans to launch a sixty satellite constellation by 2019 that will provide in excess of 40 re-visits per day in the equatorial region. The Navy should continue to invest in capabilities to prevent adversary targeting, but cannot rely on ships remaining hidden for extended periods in a 2030 environment.
- The Navy’s current force structure is essentially a scaled down version of the balanced force that exited World War II. This forces consists of attack submarines; aircraft carriers; large and small surface combatants; amphibious ships; and combat logistics. The only fundamentally new platform since World War II is the ballistic missile submarine, which is part of the nuclear triad