Tomorrow's Fleet

By Scott C. Truver
  • 12 aircraft carrier battle groups (CVBGs)—11 active aircraft carriers and 1 reserve/training carrier
  • 10 active and 1 reserve carrier air wings (CVWs)
  • 12 amphibious ready groups (ARGs)
  • 50 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs)
  • 14 nuclear-powered strategic ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs)
  • 116 surface warships—112 in the active fleet and 4 in the Naval Reserve Force

However, the Navy's actual force structure already looks inadequate to the tasks that lie ahead, and critical missions may go unfulfilled. From a force of 550 ships in 1987, today's fleet of 330 ships is taxed increasingly by routine commitments, contingencies, and crises. The Navy has acknowledged implicitly that a near-term force of only 305 ships is more likely. This will exacerbate a dilemma as the Navy seeks to transform itself for 21st-century operations. As the National Defense Panel recognized in its December 1997 report , Transforming Defense: National Security in the 21st Century , meeting today's commitments by sacrificing tomorrow's programs would mortgage the nation's security, with no guarantee that future forces would be capable of meeting the demands placed upon them. But the NDP also acknowledged that focusing too much on the future could increase significantly the risk that existing forces would not be able to meet today's needs. Strains are evident—and without a significant increase in the number of ships to be acquired, the Navy will have no more than 250 ships by 2025.

The Navy's Fiscal Years 2004-2015 Defense Procurement Plan (DPP), revealed in July 1997 as part of the Shipyard Industrial Base Study, showed an average of only seven ships to be requested per year. For fiscal years 19992003, the President last year requested a total of 33 ships—at a total cost of $39 billion—an annual rate of about six ships, which guarantees a 250-ship fleet. In its Program Objective Memorandum-2000 (POM-00) submitted to Secretary of Defense William Cohen in June, the Navy identified three "above-core" requirements: an additional Virginia (SSN-774)-class New Attack Submarine (NSSN) in fiscal year 2003; and one Land-Attack/Maritime Dominance DD-21 destroyer and one new-design T-ADCX dry cargo ship in fiscal year 2005. Moreover, if the Navy received approval for an innovative "build-and-charter" concept, the service planned to pursue a new-design Joint Command Ship built to commercial standards, also in fiscal year 2005. Even this might not be sufficient. "If we do not increase our shipbuilding," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jay Johnson warned the SASC in September, "the construction backlog will continue to grow, the resultant cost will be insurmountable, and the operational tempo (OpTempo) of remaining units will be unacceptable. Getting ship construction numbers up is our number-one long-range procurement concern." Accordingly, the CNO outlined to the SASC that the Navy needed an additional $900 million per year for the next five years to increase shipbuilding, and thereafter an additional $1.6 billion annually for ship construction.

A sustained program of 10-to-12 new-construction ships per year—beginning no later than the middle of the next decade—will be needed if tomorrow's fleet is to match needed quantity with anticipated quality.

Aircraft Carriers

In his "Naval Aviation Vision" document released in September 1997, Admiral Johnson reckoned that 12 large-deck carriers might be too few and that 13—if not 14—flattops are the baseline for meeting peacetime and wartime needs. Taking into account deployment schedules and operational/personnel tempo guidelines, 15 carriers would be needed to meet the regional commanders-in-chiefs' demands for 100% carrier coverage in three principal areas of responsibility.

The Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) was commissioned in July 1998 at a ceremony boycotted by several prominent Republicans—including Virginia's senior senator and former Navy Secretary John Warner—to protest the Clinton administration's anemic shipbuilding programs. The ninth Nimitz (CVN-68)-class carrier, the Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), is scheduled to join the fleet early in fiscal year 2003. According to the Navy's original two-track strategy for carrier modernization, the tenth and final Nimitz -class carrier, CVN-77, was needed to continue the modernization of the nation's carrier fleet and to ensure that minimum essential force levels could be maintained. That ship, to be fully funded in fiscal year 2002 for a 2008 delivery, was to be followed by a clean-sheet-of-paper design for a CVX that would usher in revolutionary advances in naval aviation warfighting and replace the nation's first nuclear-powered carrier, the Enterprise (CVN-65), after 52 years of service in 2013 (Figure 1).

Those ambitious plans, which would have required $13 billion in research, development, and acquisition for the lead, revolutionary-design CVX alone, foundered on the rocks of fiscal reality: the Navy was about $7 billion short. Admiral Johnson recognized in a 2 June 1998 memorandum for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Acquisition, and Development that "the single step from CVN-77 to a revolutionary CVX is not affordable. . . . Therefore, CVX developments should focus on an approach that incorporates warfighting enhancements through technology insertion at an affordable pace, over three [consecutive] hulls beginning with CVN-77."

Thus, CVN-77, with full funding moved up to fiscal year 200—to take advantage of construction efficiencies at Newport News Shipbuilding and reduce costs—will serve as the baseline CVX of sorts, in essence confirming last fall's CVX Analysis of Alternatives decision that the new ship should be large and nuclear powered. Both CVN-77 and CVNX-1 will use the existing Nimitz hull envelope to host near-term maturing technologies—including a new-design, higher-power-density reactor and an advanced electrical-generation, switching-and-distribution system with sufficient flexibility to support future technology insertion—to reduce total ownership costs and improve operational capabilities. Future CVNX-class ships could be in operation at the dawn of the 22nd century, and reducing manpower by as much as 35% in each ship of the class, through automation and innovative design processes for maintenance and operations, could save the Navy hundreds of millions of dollars in the interim.

One example of a near term future technology-insertion opportunity is an electromagnetic aircraft launching system (EMALS) that would replace today's manpower-intensive steam catapults. Other innovations are being pursued—from robotic equipment on the hangar deck and in magazines, to centralized food service and hotel needs, logistics support and underway replenishment enhancements, signature reduction and management, and damage control. A CVNX integrated electric drive (IED) propulsion plant continues to be proposed by engineering zealots, although it is perhaps more likely to bear fruit in the surface and submarine warfare communities before it is incorporated into the carrier force. (Indeed, in October the Navy announced that the integrated power system program was being shifted from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, to the DD-21 Program Executive Office, and a full-scale electric driver demonstration was scheduled to occur by April 1999.) Still, advocates underscore the significant cost-savings and combat-systems benefits—100% of the ship's power available for all needs, immediately upon demand—for future carriers when coupled with advanced integrated power systems (IPS) technologies. (With today's mechanical drive systems, about 80% of a ship's power is devoted solely to propulsion requirements and the remaining 20% to everything else.) The IPS/IED lash-up might eventually reach the carrier force in CVX-2 or -3, which promise to be truly revolutionary designs-on paper, at least.

Surface Warfare

The Navy's surface forces look to be able to sustain the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)-mandated 116warship force level, at least out to 2010 (Figure 2), assuming that current new-construction programs go forward as planned and projected build rates of the DD-21 destroyers can indeed be maintained. Moreover, ongoing analyses of future surface combatant force level needs—essentially an update of the 1993-94 Surface Combatant Force Level Study that called for as many as 165 surface warships to meet then-current Defense Guidance—may confirm that more than 116 multimission surface warships are needed to meet future operational requirements, especially in the land-attack and theater air defense mission areas.

New-Construction and Upgrade Programs . Aegis warship production and upgrades continue apace. A multiyear procurement of 12 Arleigh Burke (DDG-51)-class destroyers in fiscal years 1998 through 2001 was approved by Congress, which will save some $1 billion compared to a conventional acquisition strategy. Although original mid-1980s plans called for 63 DDG-51s, the class ultimately will total 57 ships, after which acquisition of the DD-21 class—variously dubbed the land-attack or maritime dominance destroyer—will accelerate. The Navy also intends to pursue an Aegis cruiser conversion program, which, according to Rear Admiral Michael Mullen, Director of Surface Warfare, is critical for these ships' long-term viability. This upgrade program includes four core elements for the 22 vertical launch system (VLS)-equipped Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class warships, 12 of which are included in the fiscal year 2000-2005 POM:

  • Enhancing land-attack capability by backfitting with the upgraded 5inch/62-caliber gun and the EX-171 extended-range guided munition
  • Installing Smart Ship innovations in labor- and cost-savings technologies and practices (also to be extended to the other five non-VLS Aegis cruisers)
  • Installing the Area Air Defense Commander system for collaborative theater air defense planning and execution
  • Ensuring a strong Area and Theater-Wide Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD) capability

The exact configuration for the upcoming DD-21 has yet to be determined, but it will be large—on the order of 12,500 tons. The DD-21's combat capability will include a mix of sensors and weapons appropriate for a 21st-century multimission surface warship. According to Captain Tom Bush, DD-21 Program Manager, this destroyer will "push the envelope" in improved joint connectivity, advanced computing systems, reduced signatures (radar cross section, infrared, acoustic, and magnetic), reduced manning, land-attack and strike weapon systems, and fire-support weapons. The DD-21 represents a "measured revolution" in surface combatant design and acquisition. Beginning in 2004, the Navy plans to acquire approximately 32 DD-21s—at a rate of three ships per year—in what may ultimately become a $25 billion program to replace the Spruance (DD-963)-class destroyers (31 ships commissioned from 1975 to 1983) and Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates (51 ships commissioned from 1977 to 1989). The first ship is scheduled to reach the fleet in 2009.

At this point in time, there are no "frigate-sized" ships on the Navy's CAD/CAM terminals. This fact has generated discussion in the Coast Guard and the Navy that culminated in the Joint Navy-Coast Guard Policy Statement on the National Fleet, signed by the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard on 21 September. If allowed to blossom, this proposal will see broad and deep cooperation between these two sea services with the Coast Guard providing important contributions to low-end missions in peacetime, crisis, and major theater war. The conceptual Maritime Security Cutter, as one element of the Coast Guard's broad-scope Integrated Deepwater System project, may prove to be a "global warship" of sorts, tailored for Coast Guard civilian law enforcement, humanitarian, and military missions in support of an expanded notion of hemispheric maritime security, and will offer an attractive "made in the USA" alternative for the world small-warship market.

Theater Ballistic Missile Defense . The Navy's TBMD programs focus on providing a "seamless, layered" area and theater-wide defense against these growing threats, dramatized by the 30 August 1998 test of the North Korean Taepodong-1 medium-range TBM that jolted Japanese and other Pacific rim nations' sensitivities. A sea-based TBMD system benefits from the strategic and tactical mobility of the nation's warships and the ability to operate in forward areas for extended periods without the need for host-nation support.

The area TBMD program will provide the capability to defend naval forces at sea and in the littorals and extend that protection to forces and facilities on shore, through the engagement of TBMs in the terminal phase of flight. According to Rear Admiral Rodney Rempt, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Theater Combat Systems, the area TBMD takes advantage of the $67 billion national investment in the Aegis weapon system and Aegis Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke guided-missile cruisers and destroyers, trained crews, and existing industrial foundations to quickly field a capable defense against these weapons. The Navy area TBMD system will field a user operational evaluation system termed "Linebacker" capability on two ships—the Lake Erie (CG-70) and Port Royal (CG-73)—with 32 area TBMD missiles beginning in fiscal year 2000. These missiles are an evolutionary enhancement of the Block IV Standard Missile Two, the SM-2 Blk IVA, which adds a dual-mode radio frequency/infared sensor, an upgraded blast/fragmentation ordnance package, and autopilot/control enhancements. In September 1997, the Linebacker missile defense software was tested on both ships and declared ready for further operational evaluations.

The Navy theater-wide (NTW) TBMD program builds upon these successes and integrates the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO)-developed lightweight exoatmospheric projectile (LEAP) and a new third-stage rocket motor into the existing SM-2 Blk IV missile, with the new missile designated SM-3. The NTW system will be able to defeat TBMs in the ascent, midcourse, and descent phases of their exoatmospheric trajectory; weapons that make it through this exoatmospheric defense can then be attacked by the Navy's area system. The NTW program has been structured to provide a near-term (fiscal year 2005) NTW Blk I capability against medium-range TBMs and a follow-on, Blk II, capability against both medium- and long-range ballistic missiles. Significantly, as the area and theater-wide capabilities are introduced into the Navy's warships, these ships retain their full multimission capabilities in all other naval warfare areas.

On 16 May 1997, the NTW program was approved for preliminary design and risk reduction. An initial Aegis LEAP intercept with a prototype SM-3 is planned for late fiscal year 1999. The current program calls for deployment of the initial first unit equipped NTW Blk I capability in fiscal year 2006 and the enhanced NTW Blk II in fiscal year 2010; if additional funding were made available, these dates could be accelerated. The Navy has also begun research and development for a new high power discriminating radar for the NTW Blk II system, which could be an adjunct radar or an upgrade to the Aegis SPY- 1B/D radars.

Fire Support . One of the more acute, long-recognized operational requirements—one that threatens to frustrate the Navy's Forward . . . From the Sea strategic concept—is the service's ability to provide long-range, accurate, and precision fires from guns and missiles in direct support of forces ashore. Current shortfalls are being exacerbated by innovative operational concepts—e.g., Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship-to-Objective Maneuver (STOM)—now being tested by the Navy and Marine Corps in the various fleet battle experiments conducted by the Maritime Battle Center at Newport. There are near-term (in the fleet by 2001) and far-term (2010+) elements that undergird the Navy-Marine Corps fire support vision that focuses on fires from aviation, surface, and submarine platforms. Key elements for the near term include modification of the existing 5-inch gun and equipping Aegis warships with the upgraded mount and the new extended-range guided munition, as well a developing a long-range land-attack missile. Midterm gun initiatives include the advanced gun systems (AGS).

The Navy is pursuing a "Mod 4" 62-caliber upgrade of the venerable Mk 45, 5-inch/54 caliber naval gun to enable the firing—"launching" is more appropriate—of the EX-171 extended-range guided munition, which will satisfy the Marine Corps' near-term range, accuracy, and lethality needs. A new enclosure, shaped to minimize radar cross-section, will be about 10% heavier than the current mount. Using conventional 5-inch ammunition, it is expected to fire 20 rounds per minute, dropping to 10 rounds per minute for handling advanced munitions such as the ERGM. A lengthened 62-caliber barrel and strengthened recoil mechanism will allow muzzle energy to be increased from 10 to 18 megajoules, and maximum chamber pressure to increase from 50,000 pounds per square inch (psi) to some 65,000 psi, almost doubling the ballistic range of the gun. All future Aegis Flight IIA destroyers, beginning with the Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81, to be commissioned in 2001), will be built with the 5-inch/62 caliber gun and the advanced tactical warfare control system that will host the naval surface fire support warfare control system. The Navy also has developed plans to backfit the upgraded 5-inch gun in 22 Aegis cruisers and is addressing a backfit program for the Flight I/II DDG-Sls. The Navy accepted a Mk 45, 5-inch/54 caliber gun "proof of concept" firing assembly last year for testing the system's ability to fire ERGMs.

The EX-171 ERGM round under development uses an increased propellant charge and a rocket motor-powered projectile to achieve ranges out to 63 nautical miles. The 110-pound aerodynamic projectile is five inches in diameter and 61 inches in length, uses a coupled global positioning system/inertial navigation (GPS/INS) guidance system, and is armed with a submunition warhead. The Navy is using a U.S. Army-developed submunition for the ERGM. A minimum of 72 M-80, dual-purpose (antimaterial/personnel), submunitions with both shaped charge and enhanced fragmentation will be incorporated.

Two variants of a land-attack missile have been pursued: the navalized variant of the Army Tactical Missile System (NTACMS) and a land-attack variant of older SM-2 Standard missiles (LASM). According to Captain Ray Pilcher, head of the Navy's land-attack warfare branch (N864), in May 1998 the CNO decided to pursue converting 800 of the SM-2s into the LASM variant, which, if allowed to go forward following the OSD-mandated review, will save the service about $150 million, compared to a similar number of NTACMS rounds. The Navy preferred LASM has a range of 150 nautical miles, a GPS/INS guidance system capable of delivering a modified Mk 125 blast/fragmentation warhead with 10-20 meter (circular error probable) accuracy. But the issue was clouded by congressional action in the Fiscal Year 1999 Defense Authorization Conference Report, which stated:

. . . the conferees believe that the assumptions used in the analysis may not accurately reflect the operational realities of the littoral battlefield. In addition, the impact of selected LASM may result in the cancellation of the NTACMS program. Cancellation of NTACMS would result in a different approach regarding land attack missile support of Marines ashore and submarine employment in the littorals from that described in Navy testimony before Congress.

The Navy also is addressing an advanced gun system (AGS)—a developmental twin 155-mm/52-caliber gun system. The original intent was to pursue a gun mounted vertically within the hull—the vertical gun for advanced ships (VGAS). If a vertical solution is not feasible, the Navy will develop a "stealthy" trainable 155mm gun; either will be designed to fit in a Ship System Engineering Standard "B" Module—comparable in size and weight to a 64-cell Mk 41 VLS that is flush to the main deck. The concept calls for a fully automated system, with autoloaders providing a rate of fire of up to 15 rounds per minute per barrel, and will have a large magazine capacity (700 rounds per gun, 1,400 per installation). Muzzle energy is estimated at 32.5 megajoules at 52,000 psi, making it compatible with existing Army 155-mm rounds, as well as even more advanced guided rounds. The vertically launched 155mm guided projectile will "fly" an up-and-over trajectory that will increase maximum range; some projections note that it will be able to deliver seven times the payload of the 5-inch ERGM at 75 miles range, or double the payload at 200 miles. The AGS is intended for installation in the DD-21 destroyer; a total of 32 shipsets plus prototypes for testing are envisioned. The AGS program is scheduled for a fiscal year 1999 start, with delivery of a prototype gun in fiscal year 2002 for land-based testing; first delivery to DD-21 is scheduled for fiscal year 2006 to support lead-ship initial operational capability in 2009.

The Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM) has been the weapon of choice since it first was fired in anger during Operation Desert Storm; its future, however, remains uncertain. Production of the Block III TLAMs stopped early in 1998. With the decision to begin development and production of the Tactical Tomahawk variant—a lower-cost missile with an uprated range and guidance capability, including the ability to loiter over the target area and be retargeted in flight, and a new 1,000pound warhead—the Tactical Tomahawk is likely to be in even greater demand in future crises in conflict. "We will have the ability to load more than one mission aboard the Tactical TLAM—a primary and one or more secondary missions—and then direct the missile in flight," Captain Pilcher noted.

In late 1998, there were about 800 of the earlier Block II TLAMs in the Navy's inventory, along with another 2,000 Block IIIs. The 1,353 Tactical Tomahawks in the plan, at an average unit cost of about $570,000, are scheduled to reach the surface and submarine fleet in 2003-2008. (The average cost of the 80 or so TLAMs that were launched against targets in Afghanistan and Sudan in August 1998 is estimated at about $750,000.) Until then, the Navy is mulling over various options to recertify and remanufacture earlier variants, including the 560 Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASMs) now out of service, to the Block III configuration. But so far, the funds to do so are not in hand. And, until some funding flexibility is found, proposals for a "FastHawk"—a hypervelocity weapon to follow the Tactical Tomahawk—remain in doubt.

Dr. Truver is Executive Director, Center for Security Strategies and Operations, TECHMATICS, in Arlington, Virginia.


Mr. Maxwell is the Deputy Commander, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Mr. Bost is the Technical Director, Human Systems Integration Directorate, Naval Sea Systems Command.

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