Surface Forces: October 7, 2003


The number of ships in the U.S. Navy has hit a new low, with only 296 combat ships in the fleet. This is the lowest it has been since just before World War I, over 80 years ago. But the American fleet is still the largest and most powerful in the world. Since 1914, the average size of ships has gone up, crew size has gone down and combat power per ship has increased enormously. Towards the end of the Cold War, the navy was headed for a 600 warship fleet. But the end of the Cold War in 1991 saw the mighty Soviet Union fleet disappear as a combat force. This left America, and it's allies, with uncontested control of the high seas. But today's navy finds itself worrying more about supporting the war on terror, and operating off coasts, not chasing down Russian nuclear subs on the high seas. To that end, the U.S. Navy is planning to build a new class of smaller, coastal fighting ships, and UCAVs (unmanned warplanes) to operate off carriers. The UCAVs are particularly important, because they can fly long range bombing missions without wearing out human crews. Smart bombs allow carriers to do a lot more damage with the same amount of bombs. This is a vital consideration for the navy, as they can only drop the bombs they have with them. So every bomb counts. New, more automated ships mean less strain on the smaller crews, and better living conditions. Even with new building programs, the navy doesn't expect to get much larger than 310-360 ships in the next twenty years.


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