Further to this post,
Defence Secretary Esper Looks to Really Shake Up US Navy to Face the PRC
besides the other questions, how long will Mr Esper be around what with the Donald and the election itself? First the size of the fleet, at Defense One:
Esper’s Fantasy Fleet
The SecDef’s 500-ship plan is an exercise in wishful thinking that avoids hard choices.
This past week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper began to share details of his new vision for the future of the Navy. His plan, with a name seemingly ripped from a videogame box – “Battle Force 2045” – calls for enlarging the fleet from 300 ships to roughly 500. For those of us who believe that sea power is important to national security, a robust call for a bigger Navy sounds great. As soon, however, as one begins to examine the details, it becomes clear that Esper’s plan is pure fantasy.
The single biggest flaw in what Esper has shared to date is his utter failure to explain how the nation and its Navy will pay for all those new vessels. The Navy can barely meet its financial obligations today, with a budget of just over $200 billion and a fleet of just under 300 ships. Even if Esper could achieve significant economies of scale, a two-thirds jump in fleet size might boost costs 40 or 50 percent, requiring an increase in the Navy’s annual budget of $80 billion to $100 billion. Construction costs to create a fleet of 355 ships, for example, let alone 500, would add almost $30 billion to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget and $38 billion to annual maintenance costs, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Getting to 500, even if the ships are small and lightly crewed, would almost certainly add at least $20 billion, and probably much more. Today, no one on Capitol Hill, from either party, believes this kind of build-up is in the cards…
Esper’s reliance on uncrewed ships also ignores a basic fact: it will require the Navy to lead the world in networking and information technology, the precise areas in which the Navy is currently weak. Designing and building remote-controlled ships and subs is not a particularly big challenge, but designing robust, secure networks that can control hundreds of these vessels in combat without hacking or degradation is a technological task of the highest order, with no room for mistakes. The Navy, however, struggles to run a successful basic network, let alone the super-network of the future. The Navy currently operates the deeply flawed NMCI and over 140 out-of-date legacy networks that cannot talk to one another, a problem service leaders vowed to fix twenty years ago. This is not a very good foundation for a revolution in networked naval warfare. To achieve what Esper takes for granted will require a massive change in the composition and the education of the Navy force and a recognition that in the very near future, IT will be more important than fields like aviation. Esper’s plan is silent on this challenge and the massive cultural change it will entail.
It is a little odd for the Trump administration to release a radical new vision for the Navy in October of its fourth year. It is an interesting conversation piece, giving the Navy’s strategists and think tank experts a vision to think about and discuss. Parts of it may ultimately inform a sober and responsible plan for the future. But because Esper’s vision operates in budget and IT fantasy land, its value as a serious planning document, regardless of the outcome of the November presidential election, is nil.
Second, more on that networking at Defense News by David B. Larter (tweets here, if only Canada had one tenth of the Americans’ defence media but no market here):
The US Navy’s ‘Manhattan Project’ has its leader
Comparing it to the challenges faced with the Aegis Combat System and the creating of the nuclear-powered Navy, the US Navy’s top officer has tasked a former surface warfare officer turned engineering duty officer to create the powerful, all-connecting network it thinks it needs to fight and win against a high-end foe like China.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday tasked Rear Adm. Douglas Small to lead an effort that will “develop networks, infrastructure, data architecture, tools, and analytics that support the operational and developmental environment that will enable our sustained maritime dominance.”
…“All other efforts are supporting you. Your goal is to enable a Navy that swarms the sea, delivering synchronized lethal and non-lethal effects from near-and-far, every axis, and every domain.”
In the past, Gilday has referred to the effort to field a powerful network as its “Manhattan Project,” harkening back to the rapid development of the atomic bomb in the 1940s. The urgency behind the effort to create this network highlights the growing sense of unease the Navy has around its position in the world as China builds towards its goal of achieving first-rate military power status by 2049.
“The Navy’s ability to establish and sustain sea control in the future is at risk,” Gilday said in his letter. “I am confident that closing this risk is dependent on enhancing Distributed Maritime Operations through a teamed manned/unmanned force that exploits artificial intelligence and machine learning. I am not confident we are building the Naval Operational Architecture connecting and enabling this future force as quickly as we must.”
The network is to connect with the Air Force’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control effort, which the services are all lining up behind.
Breaking Defense first reported the memo [the US media are a hell of a lot better at crediting other outlets than the Canadian are]…
The Navy has been working toward a concept of operations that links its ships, aircraft and unmanned platforms by way of communications relay nodes — such as small drones — or whole ships — such as the future frigate or high-tech aircraft like the E-2D Hawkeye.
The idea is to spread the force out over a wide area, as opposed to clustered around a carrier, to put a maximum burden on Chinese intelligence and reconnaissance assets. This spread-out, networked force would connect the various shooters so that if any individual node in the network sees something to kill, any Navy or Air Force asset with weapons within range can kill it.
This has led to a push for ever-longer-range missiles. But to make it work, all the pieces must be linked on a reliable communications network. The current architecture, according to the Navy, is insufficient for the job, given Chinese and Russian investments in electronic warfare that can interfere with communications.
Sure sounds like formidable funding (esp. if Democrats control at least one house of Congress) and practical/technical er, challenges.