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Surface Forces: The Incredible Shrinking American Fleet
   Next Article → AFGHANISTAN: It's Summertime, And The Killing Is Easy
June 2, 2010: The U.S. Navy has shrunk by 20 percent in the last decade, to a force of 280 ships. The main reason is the high cost of new ships, to replace those that are wearing out and being retired. In the next decade, the fleet is expected to shrink another 20 percent, again because Congress refuses to provide enough money to replace older ships (only about $14 billion a year, at most, is provided for new ships, and this is expected to shrink.) New ships cost, on average, $2.5 billion each. This is made possible because of six billion dollar destroyers, seven billion dollar subs and eleven billion dollar carriers. This is offset somewhat by $1.7 billion amphibious ships and half billion dollar LCS (a little, controversial, ship design).

The U.S. Department of Defense leadership has concluded that the current mix of ships, and naval strategies they support, cannot be sustained. It's not like this sort of thing has not happened before. This would be the third time in a century that the naval world was transformed by new technology. A century ago, the new "all big gun" battleship design had made all existing fleets obsolete. At the same time these new battleships appeared, so did aircraft. Three decades later, the aircraft carrier made the battleship obsolete. Now cruise missiles , UAVs and all manner of new sensors, software and electronics are threatening the aircraft carrier. If you go back and read the popular and professional media at the time of the last two transformations, you will note a lot of uncertainty about whether it was really a transforming moment. That is the case now, but the issue is heating up because the current carrier-centric navy is simply unaffordable. This includes the large amphibious ships (which carry helicopters and vertical takeoff aircraft, and look like carriers.)

The future of the navy is still being debated, but meanwhile, the fleet is fading into something else, and something smaller, no matter what is done. This does not mean that 70 years of American naval domination will end any time soon. The U.S. fleet is still larger than the next twelve largest fleets combined. In terms of naval combat power and capability, the U.S. still possesses most of what is available on the planet. What is rapidly changing is the cost of maintaining these capabilities, and the willingness of Americans to pay for it. The Department of Defense leadership is calling for a reexamination of how the naval domination is used, possible alternative approaches, and new ideas in general.

 

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trenchsol       6/2/2010 11:20:08 AM
I think it was year 1903 when first dreadnought type battleship was commissioned. She was called, well, "Dreadnought" and it was part of Royal Navy. The ship was faster, had deadlier guns, it needed to carry only two types of artillery shells, and fire correction was easier. This is pretty simple and easy to understand.

During WWII aircraft carriers demonstrated that they pack much more firepower at much longer range than dreadnought type battleship. They could replace battleships in ship against ship engagements, and, to some extent in naval to shore bombardment. I think that big guns are still not properly replaced in that role.  This is understandable, too.
 
It is very hard to understand what can replace aircraft carriers and large amphibious assault ships today.  One can't land infantry on the beach and support them with cruise missiles. Aircraft carriers are vulnerable, but number other nations also have them (UK, Italy, China, India, France, .....), so they probably think they need them. During Falkland war Royal Navy succeeded  in protecting their two carriers, there was not even a scratch on them.
 
It is not quite clear what problem is this article about. Is it the size, cost and vulnerability of aircraft carriers themselves, or is it about that the rest of the ships are built to protect and serve the needs of those carriers, so they are not fit enough for other tasks.
 
DG
 
 
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cwDeici       6/2/2010 3:16:35 PM
It's about America going into an emo whinefest and no longer spending enough on its navy and super-expensive submarines and high-tech surface ships as well becoming very expensive even though there's actually more money around.
 
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StobieWan       6/2/2010 4:52:07 PM
Well, no, it's more to do with the USN having made some really dim decisions in ship building over the years -a few commentators have described before how most ship design programs succumbed to major gold plating exercises in short order. The USN needs it's carriers and a solid escort fleet - what it's struggled with is coming up with a credible general purpose Frigate than can be built cheaply and which can do a number of core tasks without costing 500 million a shot.

LCS doesn't seem to tick all those boxes so far...

Ian

 
 
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ambush       6/2/2010 6:17:02 PM
Whatever the doctrine or configuration chosen, no matter ho technologically advanced the new ships maybe 250 ships +/- will not be enough as those ships cannot be two places at once. 
 
Mahan's  The Influence of Sea Power upon History is just as true today as when he wrote it.  We are still and island nation reliant upon control of the sea lanes for our economic well being and national Defense.
 
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blkfoot    250   6/2/2010 8:22:31 PM
The number 250 ship navy shouldn't really be used.
 
Split that in thirds.
 
Atlantic/ Carribean/ Mediterean 83.3 ships  (27.76 ships per location)
 
Pacific/ Indian Ocean 83.3 ships (41.65 per location)
 
Down for Maintence/ Refit 83.3 ships (41.65 per Half of the world)
 
Then figure that breakdown of what type of ship per location...(Carrier, Amphib, Sub, Frigate, Support, Auxilary, Research)of course, it's not that cut and dried...some spend more time at down time than others, some are partial crew and not really combat ready, some are just old and not as reliable as expected, some should have been turned into reefs years ago but are still on active duty.
 
And who can fit thru the Panama Canal or Suez Canal.
 
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LB    It was obvious 20 years ago   6/2/2010 10:34:02 PM
During the 1990's there was constant testimony that the lack of shipbuilding was destroying the shipbuilding industrial base.  We did not build enough ships to either sustain the fleet nor provide for industry to sustain the fleet in the future.  It was beyond obvious where we are today was going to happen.
 
So the USN in it's wisdom instead of asking for simple and cost effective to operate platforms asks industry to produce cutting edge systems in a non competitive arena and with the result we build few or none of those ships and thus further shrink the industry base.  It's a brutal catch 22.
 
Instead of cheap patrol ships and cost effective mine warfare ships we get a 40+ knot 3,000 ton frigate that can operate up rivers but has no 5+ inch gun for gunfire support but rather a 57mm and a possible extremely expensive missile system the US Army could not get to work.  LCS for mine warfare is so far beyond ridiculous it's just stunning.  The entire need for a large class of 3,000 ton frigates to go very fast is non existent.  How we went from Streetfighter to LCS is just stunning.
 
The Zumwalt's were another do everything extreme design.  The 155mm for naval gunfire support is a great idea.  Putting it on a 15,000 ton ship you would not want to risk near shore is ridiculous.  Putting one or two on double hulled and well protected modern monitor would have the twin virtues of being extremely cost effective and damn useful.  The very first issue of Proceedings I read in the early 1970s contained an article calling for a cost effective naval gunfire support ship with 2 or 3 guns (5inch at that time I believe).  
 
The blue water navy often does not get to operate due to brown water issues especially mines.  Instead of creating a new robust mine warfare community we take away all their ships and promise they'll get some time in LCS.  Instead of gunfire support ships able to operate close to shore we create ships too big and expensive to risk.  Instead of a brown water force we create a blue water frigate able to operate inshore at high speed for very high cost and limited capability.
 
There is nobody without blame from Congress through successive Administrations (though the Clinton admins share of the blame is larger than any other) to the USN.  From new cruisers or frigates, from brown water to SEALS underwater, there is nothing the USN can not over spec to the point of hideous cost and/or cancellation.  It's not as we've got as many allies around to assist either- the RN is just about gone as well.

 
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kerravon       6/3/2010 10:30:58 AM
Just how necessary is the combat navy at all?  Besides shipping equipment cheaply, isn't there enough bases around the world to allow the US to fly planes wherever it wants, and just treat those bases as an unsinkable aircraft carrier?  And before anyone says "what if we lose those bases?" - well, what if you are fighting in a land-locked country which you can't park your aircraft carrier next to anyway?
 
Surely the savings in not having to maintain a fleet would more than compensate for the extra fuel etc required to support planes flying from further away?  For the whole 10 minutes that it generally takes to seize territory in the target country (Iraq, Iran etc) to use as a new base anyway.
 
 
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StobieWan       6/3/2010 10:53:07 AM
The US is doing just that right now - in Afghanistan - the first tactical support on hand was from USN strike jets and it demonstrated just what kind of a reach the carriers give.

It's not possible to put bases all over the world within a few hundred miles of a trouble spot.

Ian

 

 what if you are fighting in a land-locked country which you can't park your aircraft carrier next to anyway?

 
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Wicked Chinchilla       6/3/2010 10:54:41 AM

Just how necessary is the combat navy at all?  Besides shipping equipment cheaply, isn't there enough bases around the world to allow the US to fly planes wherever it wants, and just treat those bases as an unsinkable aircraft carrier?  And before anyone says "what if we lose those bases?" - well, what if you are fighting in a land-locked country which you can't park your aircraft carrier next to anyway?

 

Surely the savings in not having to maintain a fleet would more than compensate for the extra fuel etc required to support planes flying from further away?  For the whole 10 minutes that it generally takes to seize territory in the target country (Iraq, Iran etc) to use as a new base anyway.

 


Lol.  Many, many things are wrong with this sentiment.
I don't have nearly as good a way with words as others here, with a statement as incorrect as that above I am sure it won't be long for them to come along.
 
To summarize the what is about to come:  Airpower can never substitute or replace boots on the ground or hulls in the water.  It was, is, and probably will forever, serve a supporting role.  Airplanes only borrow airspace for as long as they are there.  There home is always elsewhere and, eventually, they must leave to rearm and refuel.  They have no permanence.  To truly occupy, protect, or project something you need to be capable of a permanent or semi-permanent presence: or an Army and Navy. 
 
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kerravon       6/3/2010 5:20:06 PM




Lol.  Many, many things are wrong with this sentiment.


I don't have nearly as good a way with words as others here, with a statement as incorrect as that above I am sure it won't be long for them to come along.

 

To summarize the what is about to come:  Airpower can never substitute or replace boots on the ground or hulls in the water.  It was, is, and probably will forever, serve a supporting role.  Airplanes only borrow airspace for as long as they are there.  There home is always elsewhere and, eventually, they must leave to rearm and refuel.  They have no permanence.  To truly occupy, protect, or project something you need to be capable of a permanent or semi-permanent presence: or an Army and Navy. 


First of all, the question is about getting rid of the navy, not the army.  In Oct 2001, boots were indeed placed on the ground in Afghanistan.  There were planes flying all the way from America to support them.  Not sure why they were doing that instead of using a closer base.  There were also planes flying from Diego Garcia, which would seem like a more sensible place to me.
The Navy does not currently provide a permanent presence in Afghanistan, given that Afghanistan is landlocked.  All you can do is fly in planes to support the Army anyway.  Yes, of course if you have very expensive carriers close by, you may as well use them.  But we're discussing whether they are required.  Which theater of war requires planes to come in from a carrier instead of coming in from a base further away with mid-air refuelling?  ie name a country that can't be reached, since we already know that landlocked Afghanistan can be done without a carrier parked right alongside, and we already know that planes are flying to Afghanistan from as far away as the US.
 
 
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