CNO Gilday: “We need a naval force of over 500 ships”

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Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG-111), left, USS America (LHA-6) and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) transit the Philippine Sea Jan. 22, 2022. US Navy photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The U.S. Navy requires a fleet of more than 500 ships to meet its commitments to the soon-to-be-released National Defense Strategy, Adm. Mike Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, on Friday.

“I have concluded – consistent with the analysis – that we need a naval force of over 500 ships,” Gilday said during the WEST 2022 conference co-hosted by AFCEA and the US Naval Institute.

“We need 12 porters. We need a strong amphibious force to include nine big deck amphibious and another 19 or 20 [LPDs] to support them. Maybe 30 or more smaller amphibious ships in support of maritime coastal regiments…to 60 destroyers and probably 50 frigates, 70 attack submarines and a dozen ballistic missile submarines to about 100 support ships and probably about 150 unmanned looking ahead. “

According to Gilday’s list, this force would include about 513 ships with 263 manned combatants, plus 100 logistics and supply ships and 150 unmanned ships. Gilday later told reporters that the total would include littoral combat ships.

“LCS is in that mix,” he said.

The numbers Gilday announced on Friday broadly match a notional high-end grand total included in its condensed long-term shipbuilding plan for fiscal 2022. The ongoing force structure assessment mandated by Congress will feed into the fiscal 2024 budget, Gilday said. However, details of the FSA have been largely under wraps as the Pentagon continues to work on its next national defense strategy.

“We’re conducting another force structure assessment right now, but based on the hard work we’ve done over the past five or six years, we’re thinking about how we would fight,” Gilday said. “How would we fight differently in relation to a vast ocean like the Pacific?”

Over the past three years, the Navy’s future force structure has been in flux and has undergone several different fleet reviews while the Department of the Navy and Pentagon leadership have undergone unprecedented changes in 2019 and 2020.

An attempt to assess the force structure led to the Trump administration releasing an ambitious naval plan near the end of its term. The Biden administration shelved the plan shortly after President Joe Biden took office, prompting the Navy and Office of Defense Secretary to reevaluate the armed forces under new Pentagon leadership and the prospect of a blanket budget spending.

Marine Corps Cmdr. Gen. David Berger and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday speaking at WEST 2022 on February 18, 2022.

Over the past year, the Navy has embarked on an aggressive testing program to refine the emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept, which will link manned and unmanned ships and aircraft to operate together across the Pacific’s vast distances.

In particular, the Large Scale Exercise 2021 tested DMO in addition to the Marines Corps Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment over three combatant commands in a networked exercise with live and simulated exercises. The Navy and Marines also test deployed aircraft carriers and amphibious readiness groups with complicated combat issues that further test the underlying concepts. Meanwhile, ongoing testing of small unmanned vessels in the US 5th Fleet is refining how the service thinks about their future deployment.

“The actual message I wanted to get from those numbers actually depends on how we’re going to fight,” he said.

In the meantime, the Marine Corps has an ongoing requirements study for amphibious ships, which it will ultimately deliver to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. Marine Corps commander Gen. David Berger said the study is about 30 to 45 days from completion and he expects the analysis will require about 31 amphibious ships. So far, Del Toro has received two progress updates on the study, Berger said.

“If it’s anything like the previous studies — we’ve had 12 studies, I think, in the last 13 years — each of them came out over 31 amphibious ships,” Berger told reporters from WEST. “So I don’t know what’s going to come of it, but I can’t see it radically differently. Those are requirements. This is our Marine Corps requirement. That may be different than what the nation can afford.”

The study evaluates the requirements for both large amphibious ships and the light amphibious warship that the Marine Corps intends to use to transport marines around islands and coasts in the Indo-Pacific. LAW is said to have a beaching ability so it can easily bring Marines to shore. While the Marine Corps is behind the push for LAW, the money to purchase the platform would come from the Navy’s shipbuilding account.

Gilday’s confirmation of the fleet follows reports that the Biden administration is planning late inflows into the Pentagon’s fiscal 2023 budget. USNI News reported earlier this week that the new topline could be $773 billion.

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