Future Naval Force Study Charts Course to 355 Ships

 In Land, Sea, Forces & Capabilities

Warrior Video Above: Army Scientist Explains AI-Human Brain Sensing

by Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Wargames, threat assess­ments, weapons analy­sis and pure ship num­bers were all crit­i­cal vari­ables for the Navy’s Future Naval Forces Study, a detailed exam­i­na­tion which deter­mined that it is both fea­si­ble and vital for the Navy to achieve a fleet that is armed with drone boats, tech­ni­cal­ly advanced and as large as 355 ships

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper recent­ly out­lined the para­me­ters of the study, and point­ed to some of its key find­ings, during a recent pre­sen­ta­tion at the RAND cor­po­ra­tion. 

“First, they exam­ined the naval forces we cur­rent­ly have; second, they explored future force options needed to retain dom­i­nance in 2045 given China’s likely modernization plans; and, third, they war gamed these options, assess­ing the strengths and weak­ness­es of each com­bi­na­tion of ships against dif­fer­ent future mis­sion sets,” Esper told the audi­ence, accord­ing to a Pentagon tran­script. 

The scope and goal of the study, which Esper said was led by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, explored “wider and more ambi­tious future fleet options.” While being clear to oper­ate within what he called a budget-informed manner, Esper did say fund­ing for ship­build­ing will need to be increased with­out cre­at­ing what he called a “hollow Navy” in the process. 

“This study will serve as our guide­post as we decide on, pro­gram, and build our future fleet, and con­duct follow-on assess­ments in select areas. In short, it will be a bal­anced force of over 355 ships — both manned and unmanned,” Esper explained. 

Pursuing a care­ful­ly cal­i­brat­ed mix of manned and unmanned sys­tems is by no means sur­pris­ing, given the Navy’s cur­rent mod­ern­iza­tion tra­jec­to­ry which includes the rapid addi­tion of small, medium and large under­sea and sur­face drones. 

The Navy’s emerg­ing Ghost Fleet of increas­ing­ly inter­con­nect­ed, AI-enabled drone boats is fun­da­men­tal to these kinds of ini­tia­tives, because rapid tech­no­log­i­cal advances now enable groups of drone ves­sels to share data, coor­di­nate mis­sion objec­tives and oper­ate in rela­tion to one anoth­er while need­ing little to no human inter­ven­tion. Hardened net­work­ing of syn­chro­nized drones, cou­pled with humans per­form­ing com­mand and con­trol func­tions, can help bring the Navy’s key goals to fruition.

Esper point­ed to this when dis­cussing the most sig­nif­i­cant find­ings cen­tral to the study, an area of empha­sis which fur­ther for­ti­fies the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations approach. This strat­e­gy is intended to draw upon new tac­tics made pos­si­ble by longer-range, higher-fideli­ty sen­sors, advanced weapons guid­ance sys­tems and, per­haps of great­est sig­nif­i­cance, the abil­i­ty to facil­i­tate secure air, sur­face and under­sea net­work­ing across vast distances

This not only increas­es sur­viv­abil­i­ty, as less con­densed force struc­tures are nat­u­ral­ly less vul­ner­a­ble to enemy fire, but also expands the reach of net­worked mar­itime combat units. For exam­ple, this would let unmanned boats can test enemy defens­es, sur­veil coast­line for points of attack and even launch offen­sive attacks in a larger, dis­ag­gre­gat­ed, yet highly coor­di­nat­ed fash­ion. 

This weapons and plat­form acqui­si­tion plan is already well on its way, as one merely needs to give quick thought to the high number of emerging Navy programs. The Navy is now moving quick­ly on a build­ing swarm­ing fleets of inter­con­nect­ed drone boats, Medium Unmanned Surface Vessels, Large Unmanned Surface Vessels and both medium and large Unmanned Undersea Vessels. All of these plat­forms, to emerge in coming years, are intend­ed to expand the war­fare enve­lope for Navy forces, enable dis­persed oper­a­tions and, most of all, net­work to one anoth­er. 

The Navy is also embark­ing upon an ambi­tious new shipbuilding effort with its grow­ing fleet of new Frigates, accord­ing to Esper. 

“As an exam­ple of where we are headed, ear­li­er this year, the Navy grant­ed a $795 mil­lion con­tract to pur­chase the first ship of a new class of guided mis­sile frigates — with an option to pur­chase nine more total­ing nearly $5.6 bil­lion,” Esper told RAND. 

– Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn pre­vi­ous­ly served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army — Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air mil­i­tary spe­cial­ist at nation­al TV net­works. He has appeared as a guest mil­i­tary expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This arti­cle first appeared ear­li­er this year.

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