Nuclear deterrent still the US Navy’s top priority, no matter the consequences, top officer says

Nuclear deterrent still the US Navy’s top priority, no matter the consequences, top officer says

WASHINGTON – The US Navy’s new top officer is doubling down on the service’s commitment to getting the new generation of nuke-launching ballistic missile submarines fielded as soon as possible.

Adm. Michael Gilday, who assumed office as chief of naval operations in August, visited General Dynamics Electric Boat in Quonset Point, R.I., Tuesday, and reiterated in a release that the Columbia class remains Navy’s top priority.

“The Navy’s first acquisition priority is recapitalizing our Strategic Nuclear Deterrent — Electric Boat is helping us do just that,” said Gilday. “Together, we will continue to drive affordability, technology development, and integration efforts to support Columbia’s fleet introduction on time or earlier.”

The service has been driving toward fielding the Columbia’s lead ship by 2031, in time for its scheduled first deployment. Construction of the first boat will begin in October 2020, though the Navy has been working on components and design for years.

Two generations of submariner CNOs have emphasized Columbia as the service’s top priority. Gilday has made clear that having a surface warfare officer in charge has not changed the service’s focus.

In comments at a recent forum, Gilday said that everything the Navy is trying to do to reinvent its force structure around a more distributed concept of operations – fighting more spread out instead of aggregated around an aircraft carrier – would have to be worked around the Columbia class, which will take up a major part of the service’s shipbuilding account in the years to come.

“It’s unavoidable,” Gilday said, referring to the cost of Columbia. “If you go back to the 80s when we were building Ohio, it was about 35 percent of the shipbuilding budget. Columbia will be about 38 to 40 percent of the shipbuilding budget.”

“The seaborn leg of the triad is absolutely critical. By the time we get the Columbia into the water, the Ohio class is going to be about 40 years old. And, so, we have to replace that strategic leg, and it has to come out of our budget right now. Those are the facts.”

The latest assessment puts the cost of the 12 planned Columbias at $109 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Having nearly 40 percent of the shipbuilding budget dominated by one program will impact the force, which will force the Navy to get creative, he said.

“I have to account that at the same time as I’m trying to make precise investments in other platforms,” he said. Some of them will look like what we are buying today, like DDG Flight IIIs, but there is also an unmanned aspect to this. And I do remain fairly agnostic as to what that looks like, but I know we need to change the way we are thinking.”

The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, British destroyer HMS Defender and the U.S. destroyer Farragut transit the Strait of Hormuz on Nov. 19. The Navy is trying to revamp its concept of operations away from clumping ships around aircraft carriers. (Navy photo by MC3 Zachary Pearson)
The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, British destroyer HMS Defender and the U.S. destroyer Farragut transit the Strait of Hormuz on Nov. 19. The Navy is trying to revamp its concept of operations away from clumping ships around aircraft carriers. (Navy photo by MC3 Zachary Pearson)

Renewed 355 Push

While the service is staring at 40 percent of its shipbuilding budget being eaten up by the 12-ship Columbia class for the foreseeable future, the acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly has been renewing calls for the Navy to field at 355-ship fleet.

The 355-ship goal, the result of a 2016 force structure assessment, was written into national policy and was a stated goal of President Trump’s during the campaign.

“[Three hundred and fifty-five ships] is stated as national policy,” Modly told an audience at the USNI Defense Forum on Dec. 5. “It was also the president’s goal during the election. We have a goal of 355, we don’t have a plan for 355. We need to have a plan, and if it’s not 355, what’s it going to be and what’s it going to look like?”

“We ought to be lobbying for that and making a case for it and arguing in the halls of the Pentagon for a bigger share of the budget if that’s what is required,” Modly said. “But we have to come to a very clear determination as to what [355 ships] means, and all the equipment we need to support that.”

In a memo, Modly said he wanted the force to produce a force-structure assessment that got the service there within a decade. Modly went on to say that the Navy’s new Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, that will incorporate Marine Corps requirements into its assessment, should be presented to him no later than January 15.

What seems clear is that the Navy is going to look to less expensive platforms to make up its force structure goals, which will likely include unmanned systems. But Congress has shown some reluctance to buy into the concept because of the sheer number of unknowns attached to fielding useful large and medium sized unmanned surface vessels.

In the newly released National Defense Authorization Act language halved the number of large unmanned surface vessels requested by the service, and skepticism from lawmakers toward the Navy’s concepts appears unlikely to abate by next budget cycle. That means that the 10 LUSVs the Navy programmed over the next five years seem unlikely to materialize at that rate.

The Navy envisions the LUSV as an autonomous external missile magazine to augment the larger manned surface combatants.

But the drive to field less expensive systems to execute a more distributed concept of operations in large areas such as the Asia-Pacific is being pushed at the highest levels of the government.

In his comments at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend, President Trump’s National Security Adviser said the military needed to rethink how it buys its equipment.

“Spending $13 billion on one vessel, then accepting delivery with elevators that don’t work and are unusable is not acceptable,” O’Brien told the audience, referring to the troubled carrier Ford.

“The National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy are clear: We must be ready for an era of prolonged peacetime competition with peer and near-peer rivals like Russia and China. … The highest-end and most expensive platform is not always the best solution.”


Source : David Larter Link to Author

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