Congressional legislators rumbled with displeasure in December 2019 when the Office of Management and Budget released a memo proposing to early retire a dozen U.S. Navy ships in service and cut twelve more that are on order.
The vessels affected included operational Ticonderoga-class cruisers, littoral combat ships and San Antonio-class landing platform docks, as well as orders for new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, CHAMPS auxiliary ships, a Virginia-class submarine and a forthcoming FFG(X) frigate.
When combined with additional orders of newer ships, the OMB proposal leaves the Navy with three fewer ships than it started with, despite a (likely impossible) mandate to boost ship totals from 290 to 355 ships.
A companion article details the types of ships being cut, and the still vaguely-conceived successors the Navy sees stepping in to take their place. This piece will look at the political strategy that may underly the OMB proposal, and a peculiar bureaucratic problem which may be undermining the Navy’s modernization strategy.
Part of the difficulty facing the Navy budget, as that it wants to procure ten 2,000-ton LUSV drone warships as well as two smaller MUSV drone vessels with anti-submarine payloads, at a total cost of $3 billion.
In theory, robotic surface combatants could be much cheaper to build and operate than manned warships, could be employed more aggressively in areas threatened by anti-access/area denial weapons, and would allow the Navy to spread out its firepower more broadly without forcing it to stick humans on vulnerable ships like the LCS.
Above all, LUSVs could reduce the overwhelming operational burden placed on Navy’s over-worked destroyers, cruisers, littoral combat ships, and planned-for frigates.
But the drone ships of its “Ghost Fleet” don’t officially count towards the total number of ships in service. That makes it seem like the Navy is shrinking more than is actually the case.