Has the US Navy corvettes

U.S. Navy before major expansion due to China

Main pictureUS destroyer in the Arabian Sea, 2018. (US Navy)

The US is expanding its navy vigorously. Numbers in the game bring back memories of the "600-ship Navy" of the 1980s. According to the Pentagon, however, its main rival, China, already has the world's largest fleet.

Not least against the background of growing challenges from China, the U.S. Navy, the (still) most powerful war fleet in the world, is heading for an extensive change in size, structure and equipment.

As part of the "Future Navy Force Study", which the Pentagon initiated some time ago and the results of which will be published soon, the recommendation should be found to drastically increase the active number of warships, submarines and combat support ships to more than 500 .

For comparison: The official American Naval Vessel Register lists 296 vehicles of the relevant classes under the title as of October 6th "Ship Battle Forces" on - it is mainly about large and small aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, submarines, ships for amphibious warfare, large patrol boats, mine layers / clearers and fleet suppliers.

If you include reserve ships, barges, other freighters and tankers, hospital ships, floating troop accommodation, survey ships, floating cranes and other things, the total US fleet stands at around 500 units; The expansion referred to here and dealt with in the following focuses only on the active "Battle Forces". And their hard core, in the narrower sense of the word, consists of eleven carriers, 22 cruisers, 70 destroyers, 21 coastal combat ships and 68 submarines (total: 192).

Now the fleet expansion target for Battle Forces, which has been in effect since 2016, is 355 manned ships and submarines by 2030 and is already quite high. The increase is to consist of destroyers, amphibious ships, submarines and "littoral combat ships". The latter are relatively small and very fast units for areas near the coast, archipelagos and shallow waters, and for missions against in principle clearly inferior opponents, such as pirates , Terrorists and smugglers.

The "shitty little ships"

These "Independence" and "Freedom" -class ships, in service since 2008, are considered by not a few practitioners and observers to be underarmed, too short in range, too expensive and complicated to operate (some call them "small shitty ships "); Initially, 52 should be procured, it followed a back and forth, so far it is only 21. Four of them were even selected for decommissioning this year, decades before their planned" end of life ".

>>> Video for Littoral Combat Ships; Image: Independence class

The current Pentagon study, however, sets the time horizon to 2045, i.e. 15 years further back. 500 warships by then would mean an increase in the active combat fleet compared to the current target by 40 percent, compared to the current status by almost 70 percent.

But it's not just about the number: The recommendation will probably also focus on the procurement of much more smaller ships and a reduction in the number of eleven nuclear aircraft carriers, probably the most publicized part of the U.S. Navy. And: A considerable part of the increase should go to only slightly to completely unmanned, ultimately remotely controllable or autonomously driving watercraft.

Opinions from several sides

As part of the Future Navy Force Study, Defense Secretary Mark Esper asked several sides for comments in January: the leadership of the Navy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon's Office of Cost Estimation and Program Evaluation (CAPE) and an external body - the Hudson Institute, the famous conservative think tank in Washington.

The Defense News website, citing well-informed sources, recently reported that the first proposals submitted in the spring by the Hudson Institute and CAPE would range from 480 to 534 ships. The Navy itself wants to wait for the comments from the others and is keeping a low profile.

The United States Naval Institute (USNI) recently reported that the Hudson proposal is now virtually official. And that he recommends no fewer than 581 Battle Force ships. In fact, Hudson has already published it.

>>> The Hudson Plan

581 ships would almost double the current level and a quantitative return to the 1980s, when the government of President Ronald Reagan built the massive "600-ship Navy" in the final phase of the Cold War. At its peak in 1987, it had 594 active Ships and submarines, of which at least 527 belong to the Battle Forces category.

In that year, for example, the United States still had 16 large carriers (eleven today), an incredible 97 attack submarines (50 today) and 119 frigates (a class of ship that was later completely abolished). And four reactivated, modernized battleships of the "Iowa" class from World War II. Two of them, "Missouri" and "Wisconsin", were deployed in 1991 in an international alliance's war effort against Iraq, legitimized by the UN, and fired at coastal targets.

What do the reform proposals known so far say about the qualitative structure of the future U.S. Navy? Hudson's plan is particularly noticeable in that it proposes a significant part of the increase in the form of unmanned vehicles and those that usually have a small crew, but may also have a specifically limited operational capability autonomously or remotely.

Focus on corvettes and unmanned vehicles

Specifically, it is about 80 corvettes, a class of ship between the size of large patrol boats and that of frigates; 99 medium-sized unmanned surface ships that can supplement the corvettes (for example as a supplier, own weapon carrier, reconnaissance aircraft); and around 40 large robotic submarines.

With 139 unmanned vehicles, autonomous vehicles account for almost half of the increase according to Hudson; If you include the 80 partially autonomous corvettes, it is three quarters. In addition, 27 small amphibious combat ships for the marines and 18 small logistics ships are listed for a total of nine ship classes. For the latter ships, as well as for future larger supply ships, autonomous possible uses are being considered.

Hudson also proposes that the current 355 ship plan is partly retained, partly with cuts: The former target of 52 Littoral Combat Ships is confirmed, but could also partly be achieved by new frigates to be built; there should be a notable plus for large fleet suppliers (from 29 to 38) and for command and support ships (from 35 to 45).

In the case of the big pots, however, savings are outlined: The eleven atomic aircraft carriers of the "Nimitz" class (10) and the "Gerald R. Ford" class (currently one) should be reduced to nine Reach the decommissioning of the oldest ships of the Nimitz class.

The minus for cruisers and destroyers is strong: They should be reduced from the current 92 (Hudson calls the number 89), with the current expansion target 104, to 74.

The number of strategic submarines with ballistic nuclear missiles would fall from 14 to twelve, while that of conventionally armed attack and cruise missile submarines would remain the same at 54 (the current plan envisages an increase to 66). However, the authors also advocate the aforementioned 40 large robotic underwater vehicles that take on a number of tasks of manned submarines.

A main motive: dispersion of forces

The motives for the changes in content are diverse: the small amphibious assault ships and small transporters, for example, correspond to the requirements of the Marine Corps for (1) less conspicuous vehicles for small actions with only a few dozen to a few hundred soldiers and for (2) the possibility of forces to "scatter" - that is, to send a large number of small associations to various locations in an operational area as part of an overall operational campaign.

This motif of scattering or fragmentation, the image of a "distributed fleet", also runs through the reduction of large units and the procurement of very many smaller watercraft: large ships, it is said, are equivalent to a war for many everyday purposes Opponents are "too big a club" and they bundle an enormous amount of firepower in one place. Conversely, this makes them primary goals, and very big ones. So the idea is to distribute firepower across many smaller ships, including unmanned ships.

As stated in the Hudson Plan: “Naval experts inside and outside the Navy believe they are the missiles and cruise missiles on a cruiser (The 22 cruisers of the "Ticonderoga" class have launch cells for up to 122 missiles each, note) would rather see two or three smaller ships. "That would tactically bring more ships into battle with smaller targets, and if one were destroyed, the others would still be there from the point of view of the wear and tear of the forces.

Smaller vehicles could operate more easily in confined waters. A fleet that is as "distributed" as possible would offer more tactical possibilities for movements, line-ups, deceptive actions, and especially for quick reactions to enemy trains; it would force an attacker to divide up his forces (such as rocket salvos, aircraft) and could cope with losses better, because there is more floating material involved.

Critics argue that small ships are harder to hit, but that they can withstand hits more poorly than large barges, in other words: They are more likely to be destroyed. In their battle simulations, however, the Hudson people have just come to the conclusion that, to put it casually, more mass is better than more class.

More mass instead of class

According to the plan, this additional mass is to consist in particular of autonomous vehicles or corvettes. Ticonderoga cruisers have a crew of around 350, destroyers of the "Arleigh Burke" class still have around 320, while the corvettes operating in many fleets around the world manage with around 40 to 100 men, although not always for long missions on the high seas and are so well suited at great distances, that depends very much on the specific type.

Another aspect is clear: save teams or minimize growth. Currently the U.S. Navy with nearly 340,000 seafarers and officers active. It also employs around 282,000 civilians, and the military reserves are just over 100,000 men. In other words: the US Navy actively has about as many people as Graz, Linz and Innsbruck combined.

There are a number of projects for autonomous / remotely controllable surface and underwater vehicles, we do not want to go into them here. But it's not just about vehicles that do simple and / or mostly uneventful things, such as transports, patrols, electronic reconnaissance. The projects also provide combat against sea, land and air targets, in defensive and offensive roles, submarine hunting, mine laying, mine sweeping and other missions involving the use of weapons. This also results in the possible dispersion of the fleet, its firepower and options for action while at the same time (theoretically) reducing its vulnerability.

In particular against a technically equivalent opponent (keyword above all China, Russia) and in the vicinity of its coast and bases, at least its ability to act, autonomous ships would be cheap. To put it simply: in a heavily defended or heavily fenced zone, it is better to bring small unmanned weapons carriers than large manned cruisers and destroyers.

Leave cleared ships behind as battle stations

Incidentally, the corvettes should also be good for this: According to the Hudson plan, these could be evacuated by the crew in a "contested area" in an emergency and left behind as advanced robotic or remote-controlled weapon platforms.

The U.S. Navy has been pursuing the idea of ​​autonomous ships including their use as weapon launch ramps for a long time, but mostly thinks bigger: We are talking about the "Large Unmanned Surface Vessel" (displacement around 2000 tons), somewhat more theoretical and bombastic also about the "Arsenal Ship".

The latter idea revolves around ships the size of cruisers, or converted civilian freighters that are packed with hundreds of missiles and almost nothing else. The minimal crew would leave such a ship in an emergency, then massive volleys against opponents could rise from there, and the loss of such a ship would be socially bearable, so to speak, due to the lack of people on board. Two such projects, with 288 and 500 missiles per arsenal ship, respectively, have failed since the 1990s or failed due to opposition from Congress.