Most of the people with an interest in defence will have heard at least once about the "313 ships plan" of the US Navy, but few will be aware of the intended composition of this total. The current US fleet hovers at around 284 ships, with the 313 ships plan having been formuled in 2006. Now it is practically certain that said plan will be rewritten and scaled down in several areas, but it remains indicative of the general direction that the USN is following.
As of now, the US Navy strength includes:
- 11 Aircraft Carriers
CVN-65 Enterprise - Her last tour of duty has begun.
CVN-69 Dwight D. Eisenhower1977 1
CVN-70 Carl Vinson
CVN-71 Theodore Roosevelt
CVN-72 Abraham Lincoln
CVN-73 George Washington
CVN-74 John C. Stennis 19951
CVN-75 Harry S. Truman
CVN-76 Ronald Reagan
CVN-77 George H. Bush
Being built are:
CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford - due to commission in september 2015
CVN-79John F. Kennedy - first steel cut in february 2011, for delivery in 2020
- AAW cruisers; Ticonderoga class
CG-52 Bunker Hill 19865679
CG-53 Mobile Bay
CG-55 Leyte Gulf
CG-56 San Jacinto
CG-57 Lake Champlain
CG-58 Philippine Sea
CG-63 Cowpens - to be retired as part of FY2013 cuts
CG-64 Gettysburg - to be retired in FY2014 as part of cuts
CG-65 Chosin - to be retired in FY2014 as part of cuts
CG-66 Hue City - to be retired in FY2014 as part of cuts
CG-68 Anzio - to be retired as part of FY2013 cuts
CG-69 Vicksburg - to be retired as part of FY2013 cuts
CG-70 Lake Erie
CG-71 Cape St. George
CG-72 Vella Gulf
CG-73 Port Royal - to be retired as part of FY2013 cuts
7 of these powerful and impressive, but not without defects, ships will be retired as part of cuts outlined in the 2013 budget, as indicated in the above list. The intended Ticonderoga replacement, the CG-(X) was cancelled, and it is now anticipated that destroyers of the Arleigh Burke Flight III will be bought as replacement in the long term.
- Destroyers; DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class
Flight I - no helicopter hangar, 2 Phalanx CIWS
DDG-51 Arleigh Burke
DDG-53 John Paul Jones
DDG-54 Curtis Wilbur
DDG-56 John S. McCain
DDG-60 Paul Hamilton
DDG-68 The Sullivans
Flight II - improved radar and electronics
DDG-75 Donald Cook
Flight 2A - introduces double helicopter hangar, but ships were not fitted with Harpoon missiles
Fitted with 5''/54 main gun
DDG-79 Oscar Austin
Fitted with 5''/62 MK4 main gun, but development of long range ammunition for which they were intended was cancelled
DDG-81 Winston Churchill - this ship, symbol of the special relationship, carries the name of the british prime minister, has a RN man on board on exchange at all times, and quite often flies the White Ensign on the mast
From DDG-85 onwards the vessels were not fitted with Phalanx CIWS systems, or given only one instead of two
DDG-95 James E Williams
DDG-98 Forrest Sherman
DDG-108 Wayne E. Meyer
DDG-109 Jason Dunham
DDG-110 William P Lawrence
DDG-112 Michael Murphy
The production of DDG-51 has restarted in 2009 due to the cost overruns of the Zumwalt class, which was subsequently cut from a planned 32 to just 3, and three more Flight 2A destroyers are on order. These will include features that are being rolled in service on existing ships as part of a BAE-led modernization programme.
DDG-113 John Finn
DDG-114 Ralph Johnson
DDG-115 Rafael Peralta
A further 6 destroyers are planned to be built as "Technology Insertion ships", incorporating design changes and improvements and kit of the in-design phase Flight III
From DDG-122 onwards, it is expected that the destroyers will be built in Flight III configuration. Flight III will introduce the new Air and Missile Defense Radars AMDR. The US Navy is thinking to keep buying Arleigh Burkes, fixing their design and kit as time passes. They anticipate a Flight IV by around 2032.
DDG-1000 Zumwalt class
DDG-1001 Michael Monsoor
Probably the most innovative ships being built anywhere in the world, they are also probably going to be the most expensive destroyers ever. Their 14.000 tons +, anyway, suggest that cruiser would be a more fair designation.
FFG Oliver H. Perry class - 20 active, 8 in reserve. Decommissioning as LCS vessels enter service.
MCM vessels - 14 Avenger class ships; destined to be replaced by LCS
Coastal patrol vessels - 10 Cyclone class ships
All 12 Osprey class coastal minehunters retired by 2007; intended replacement is LCS
Seawolf class SSN
SSN- 21 Seawolf
SSN- 22 Connecticut
SSN- 23 Jimmy Carter
Los Angeles class SSN
SSN-701 La Jolla
SSN-705 City of Corpus Christi
SSN-711 San Francisco
SSN 721 Chicago
SSN 722 Key West
SSN 723 Oklahoma City
SSN 724 Louisville
SSN 725 Helena
SSN 750 Newport News
SSN 751 San Juan
SSN 752 Pasadena
SSN 753 Albany
SSN 754 Topeka
SSN 755 Miami
SSN 756 Scranton
SSN 757 Alexandria
SSN 758 Asheville
SSN 759 Jefferson City
SSN 760 Annapolis
SSN 761 Springfield
SSN 762 Columbus
SSN 763 Santa Fe
SSN 764 Boise
SSN 765 Montpelier
SSN 766 Charlotte
SSN 767 Hampton
SSN 768 Hartford
SSN 769 Toledo
Virginia class SSN
SSN 776 Hawaii
SSN 777 North Carolina
Block II - reduced number of sections, making building easier and less expensive
SSN 778 New Hampshire
SSN 779 New Mexico
SSN 780 Missouri
SSN 781 California
SSN 782 Mississippi - to commission by June 2012
SSN 783 Minnesota - for delivery in 2013
Block III - revised bow design replaces the 12 single VLS cells with two large tubes each containing a 6-cells module, as on the Ohio SSGNs
SSN 784 North Dakota
SSN 785 John Warner
SSN 786 yet to be named
SSN 787 yet to be named
At least 8 Block III submarines will be built. A Block IV tranche is planned, and Block V should follow, introducing an additional hull section aft of the conning tower, containing 4 large Common Weapon Launcher tubes for the Prompt Global Strike missile (if it effectively developed and introduced into service), UAVs, UUVs, or the 6-cells Tomahawk launchers. In practice, the Common Weapon Launcher is a huge, 3-meter in diameter tube that is part of the Common Missile Compartment being developed for the US and UK replacement SSBNs.
The Block V Virginia is currently envisioned as replacement for the current SSGNs, to be retired between 2026 and 2028.
As in the UK there's been some thought given to fitting a missile compartment section in an Astute design to create a "low cost" future SSBN, in the US there have been studies about using the Virginia.
In both countries, the approach is kept around as a possibility, but is not seen as the way to go.
SSGN Fleet - Modified Ohio, 4 ex-SSBN hulls
SSBN Fleet - 14 Ohio class boats
SSBN 730 Henry M. Jackson
SSBN 731 Alabama
SSBN 732 Alaska
SSBN 733 Nevada
SSBN 735 Pennsylvania
SSBN-736 West Virginia
SSBN 737 Kentucky
SSBN 738 Maryland
SSBN 739 Nebraska
SSBN 740 Rhode Island
SSBN 741 Maine
SSBN 742 Wyoming
SSBN 743 Louisiana
LCC-19 Blue Ridge - based in Yokosuka, Japan
LCC-20 Mount Whitney - based in Gaeta, Italy
Both command ships are to be life-extended to 2029.
LHD; 8 Wasp class
LHD-6 Bonhomme Richard
LHD-7 Iwo Jima
LHD-8 Makin Island
LHA-5 Peleliu - last of the Tarawa class, will be retired when USS America is ready
LHA-6 America - should hit service in 2014, will replace Peleliu
LHA-7 - initial contract placed
LHA-8 - planned, with initial funding to be provided by 2015
LPD fleet, San Antonio class (LPD 17)
LPD-17 San Antonio
LPD-18 New Orleans
LPD-19 Mesa Verde
LPD-20 Green Bay
LPD-21 New York
LPD-22 San Diego - to commission in May 2012
LPD-23 Anchorage - to commission in September 2012
LPD-26 John P. Murtha
LPD-27 - long lead orders
LPD-28 - planned
LSD-41 Whidbey Island - to be retired in FY2013 as part of cuts
LSD-43 Fort McHenry
LSD-44 Gunston Hall
LSD-46 Tortuga - to be retired in FY2013 as part of cuts
LSD-49 Harpers Ferry
LSD-50 Carter Hall
LSD-51 Oak Hill
LSD-52 Pearl Harbor
By 2020, a replacement program, LSD(X), should be shaped to buy up to 11 replacement LSD vessels. For the moment, nothing is known about the characteristics envisaged by the Navy.
Joint High Speed Vessel
JHSV 1 Spearhead
JHSV 2 Vigilant
JHSV 3 Fortitude
JHSV 4 Fall River
JHSV 5 Resolute
JHSV 6 Choctaw County
JHSV 7 Courageous
JHSV 8 - yet to be named
JHSV 9 Sacrifice
JHSV 10 - yet to be named
Plans for 8 more vessels are apparently cancelled as part of cuts in FY2013.
January 2012 saw the US Navy receiving 2 "superferries", Huakai and Alakai, ex-civilian ferries which served in the Hawaii before the company MARAD, defaulted. The two ferries will replace an equal number of civilian ferries that the Marines had leased in the last years.
USS Ponce, LPD-15, is to be converted into an interim sea base.
Mobile Landing Platform
Montford Point - to hit service in 2015
Lewis B. Puller - should be in service by 2018
The 313 ships plan: blueprint for the future
A revised plan, with numbers tweaked downwards, is likely to emerge at some point in the future. The cuts of FY2013, after all, go against the indications of the 313 ships plan, and would require additional ships to be built to keep the originally envisaged pace, something that is almost certainly not happening, with emphasis on the 'certain'.
The 313 ships plan envisages a fleet composed of:
11 Aircraft Carrier, Nuclear CVN
88 Major Escorts (DDG-51, Ticonderoga until retired, DDG-1000 Zumwalt)
4 SSGN (with the Virginia block 5 currently planned as replacement, the US navy might well have no real SSGN submarine, but more SSNs enhanced with a large number of VLS tubes for TLAM and/or whatever comes out of the Prompt Global Strike missile)
12 SSBN (down from 14)
33 amphibious vessels [8 LHD, 3 LHA, 12 LPD 17, 10 (?) LSD(X)]
30 Combat Logistics Force ships [11 T-AKE auxiliary dry cargo ships, 4 T-AOE fast CSS ships, 15 T-AO oilers, to be replaced by an equal number of T-AO(X) tankers introducing the double hull)
12 Maritime Prepositioning Force (Future)
20 Support Vessels
The effective numbers of vessels is of course given by the balance of new hulls built and launched and old ones being retired, so 313 is an aspirational number calculated on the need of maintaining a date quantity of vessels of each type. For example, the requirement for 11 active carriers has been confirmed even after the latest budget cuts, even though, for 33 months, the total will go down to 10 as Enterprise is retired before her replacement hits service.
Over the years, it is envisaged that some 66 LCS will be built, but some will be replacements for the early units, so that the US Navy plans a force of 55 LCS in service as a standard, with the 55 hulls having to ensure that at least 23 vessels will be at sea at any one time. The LCS is getting double crews, which are swapped at sea to maximise ship availability.
The 55 LCS are seen as a direct replacement to 30 Oliver Hazard Perry frigates, 14 Avenger class minesweepers and 12 Osprey coastal minesweepers. Some of the frigates are gone, several are in reserve, and all the Ospreys have been retired already.
The LCS program includes the acquisition of 24 Mine Counter Measure modular kits, 16 ASW kits, and 24 ASuW kits. The MCM modular payload is the most urgently needed, and it is the one making the most progress. Both of the other two role payloads are suffering delays and problems. In particular, the Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) module has been badly hurt by the US Army cancellation of the NLOS missile system: the LCS ASuW was meant to employ 3 NLOS launch boxes, for 45 missiles, plus 2 30 mm light guns.
As of early 2012, the US Navy is thinking to employ the Griffin mini-missile, but this has an even shorter range and lethality, and the ASuW module risks being unable to hit anything 'over the horizon' before 2017, when a "Griffin Increment 2" should expand the missile's capability.
To give you an idea of how bad it is, a surface launched Griffin will only go 3.5 / 4 miles, which is no bad when fired at an Afghan compound from the back of an Humvee, but sucks considerably if it is your warship's best weapon.
The Support Vessels include:
4 T-ARS rescue and salvage ships
5 T-AGOS ocean survey ships
4 T-AFT oceanic fleet tugs
2 T-AH hospital ships [Mercy and Comfort]
Marine Prepositioning Force (Future)
The Marine Prepositioning Force future envisages three squadrons, one based in the Mediterranean Sea, one in Diego Garcia, Indian Ocean, and one in the West Pacific, based in Guam.
Note that the Marine Prepositioning Force is that dedicated solely to the US Marines Corp. Further prepositioning vessels, for a total of over 30, exist but are not part of the 313 ship count: they are operated by the US Military Sealift Command, crewed by civilians, and assigned to support the Army and the USAF.
For now i will only focus on the specific Marine fleet.
Each squadron carries vehicles and stores to support a 17.000-strong Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) for a minimum of 30 days of high intensity combat operations. Alternatively, the squadron can support several 2200-strong Marine Expeditionary Units MEU.
Each squadron will have:
1 Mobile Landing Platform
1 Large Medium Speed Ro-Ro vessel. The USMC variant of the LMSR has several improvements, such as a modified stern RoRo ramp that can be lowered in the water for launching amphibious assault vehicles, a full Day/Night flight deck (opposed to a day-only landing pad on Army LMSRs) and accommodation for 50 Marines.
1 T-AKE dry cargo ship
1 of the current T-AK series of civilian cargo vessels of the Maritime Prepositioning Force.
Each Marine Prepositioning Squadron (MPS) carries, in addition to stores and vehicles, material for a Seabees maritime engineer battalion, a 200-beds Role 3 hospital and material for the construction of a Forward Operating Base with runways for STOVL aircraft, today Harrier, tomorrow F35B.
The current MPS squadrons have limited self-supporting attributes. They have powerful cranes for unloading, but they still need a port. The Mobile Landing Platform, meant to constitute a "pier at sea" will enable the RoRo ships, including JHSV, to disembark the vehicles, which will then go ashore on LCU or LCAC crafts or, where possible, driving down a floating causeway connecting the Mobile Landing Platform directly to the shore.
A plan in this sense has yet to take shape, but with the introduction of the Sea Base vessel type with FY2013 planning, the Marine Prepositioning Squadrons might gain an additional vessel type, with three Seabases built on the same hull of the Mobile Landing Platform.
Alternatively, the Seabase will be built by enhancing the Landing Platform, using the immense open deck to add platforms for accommodations and other services, including container handling crane and also extensive helicopter support facilities. The order for the first definitive seabase (the USS Ponce conversion is an interim solution) is expected in 2014, as a new build ship. Converting the third Mobile Landing Platform is also being evaluated.
A previous variant, very different, of the MPF(F) foresaw an high end squadron replacing one of the current three "civvie" squadrons, lining 2 LHDs, 1 LHA, 1 Mobile Landing Platform and other vessels. This plan was abandoned in 2010, an a proposal of having an LHA built for each Prepositioning Squadron was also abandoned. LHDs and LHAs will stay back in the US as part of the assault fleet, while MPF(F) has become a far less ambitious, but in my view far more balanced and reasonable enhancement to the current three squadrons, in which the LMSR, T-AKE and MLP fit perfectly well.
A quick mumble
With a force of 88 escorts planned, but pretty much never to be reached (the actual force will hover around 70-some most of the time, and that's before other and worst reductions in shipbuilding eventually come), the US Navy is rather hard pressed.
Indeed, just last January the US Navy admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, announced that Department of Defense has asked the Navy to take another look at implementing more “Sea Swap,” the rotation of ship crews to keep warships forward-deployed longer. The aim is to avoiding the wear and tear of long transits, and increase ship availability by keeping the vessels on patrol and forward deployed for longer periods.
The US Navy tried doing it in 200, but by 2003 it had discontinued the method because it was assessed to cause a drop in the efficiency of crews, something that the RN discovered in 2007, when it too tried the sea swapping.
Nonetheless, both US and UK crews of the respective minesweeper fleets in Bahrain are swapped regularly (UK minesweepers do tours of 4 years in Bahrain, with crews rotated in and out every six months), the RN sea-swaps happily the crews of its survey ships, which often stay a good two years in cruise around the world without ever touching the UK's coast, some sea swapping is done on HMS Protector, and crews are regularly rotated aboard RFA tankers, such as the Wave class vessels which can easily spend 2 and a half years away before heading back to the UK.
The US Navy uses double crews (Blue and Gold) on its SSGN subs and has adopted the practice for the LCS as well.
Want it or not, both the US Navy and the Royal Navy are likely to have to try harder, and make Sea Swap work, because ship numbers are going down but tasks are not.
The experiments of both navies in the 2000s were probably too ambitious: the idea of the time was that the crews would no longer be assigned to a ship and build a long lasting tie with it, but they would be flown to any vessel of the type that needed them.
This was assessed to impact morale badly, and the crews were unable to get emotionally attached to the vessels they briefly touched, which meant that they normally did the least indispensable and left behind themselves a mess the following crew would have to deal with. Also, the swap was done too quickly, without giving the crews the time to exchange info on the state of the ship.
Germany, with its F125 frigates, is adopting a different approach, with 2 crews per ship and with a 48 hours swap time, in which the new crew is introduced to the vessel by the crew that's about to leave.
This does not erase all problems and challenges, but greatly downsizes them. 2 crews assigned to a ship will still very much feel the ship as their own, and while 48 hours aren't a long time, they should be enough for the crews to exchange the most needed information.
If it could be made to work, Sea Swap could well represent an advantage for crews as well as from the Navy. In the RN, as of now, personnel can be asked to be away from home for 660 days in a 36 months period, including deployments, pre-deployment training and other activities resulting in the personnel sleeping away from his usual accommodation. In terms of deployments, the RN personnel can be asked to spend 60% of a 36 months period deployed away from home, which to me seems to contradict the Separated Service Guidelines exposed earlier: 60% of 36 months in itself is around 660 days. Adding pre-deployment training, that means spending well more than 660 days away from home.
Swapping every six months could be made to enhance significantly the permanence of a ship in area of operations, while also improving the life of personnel by reducing at least a little the time spent away.
For the Royal Navy it could be advantageous to have double crews for a number of Type 26s and 45s, in order to sustain enduring commitments such as Atlantic Patrol South and operations in the Gulf. Instead of having a minimum of two ships committed to the Falklands over a 12 months period, you'd have one, for example, while cutting at least two 13.000 miles transits over the period, with savings in fuel and wear and tear.
Time to be imaginative, and seriously think again about it, i believe.
Second part of my mumble is that the Royal Navy, bashed for "having sacrificed escorts" for major warships, has a better ratio of escorts/capital ships than the US Navy has.
US Capital ships: 11 Carriers and 33 amphibious vessels
Ratio: 2 to 1
UK Capital ships: 2 LPH (tomorrow hopefully 2 carriers), 2 LPD and, let's be generous, 3 Bay class LSD
Ratio: 2,71 to 1
The difference is that the US is constituting a dedicate fleet for minor tasks and forward presence, the LCS force, with flottillas in Singapore and Yokosuka, Japan, and perhaps in Bahrain too.
The UK has long lost a second-rate fleet for minor tasks, and is forced to use escorts for roles that do not require major warships.
The answer is not building more escorts (although that would be a beautiful and effective answer), because that is financially unfeasible, but building a second rate fleet. It is what the Navy is trying to do with the C3, now MHPC, requirement.
It is far more than a minesweeper replacement: at 3000 tons and 7000 naval miles range, it is a presence ship which has to relieve the escorts of much of their current jobs.
As i will explain in much greater detail in my Future Force 2020: Royal Navy and Marines post to follow sometime in the future, i envisage only two "Warlike" standing commitments, as of now: the Falklands and the Gulf. For pirates and drug smugglers, a Lynx helicopter and a 30 mm gun are already enough.
Frigates and destroyers should be primarily assigned to these two locations, with the rest kept back to train, participate in multinational exercises, to escort the RN Response Force Task Group and to be ready for the unexpected, essentially: as a Fleet in Being ready to sail towards a crisis. Anti-Piracy patrol in Somalia, Caribbean counter-smuggling, and other minor tasks should all be covered by the MHPC, not by major warships which are effectively wasted in the role and consequently unavailable to respond to real crisis, or by tankers or amphibs that are best used in their true roles.
Some double crews and MHPCs are my financially affordable solution to the shortage of escorts. It might be unglamorous, but at least it is possible, and not a wet dream.
In fact, just think about basing a single frigate in the Falklands and another in the Gulf, each keeping the position for a couple of years, with the two crews exchanging every six months.
Only 2 ships are committed in the two years, instead of, at best, 4 (2 per each task). From the same number of ships, i've gained two vessels that are now available for other tasks, like escorting the Response Force and being available when a crisis pops up and well armed ships are needed.