Future threats to the US Navy require a turn to future technologies. (Part 1)
By George Dienhart
There is much ado about building out our Navy to transition from a focus on low intensity warfare to a focus on threats from near peer competitors. As China and Russia field new, more advanced Naval forces, the United States now finds itself in a position where it must play a very expensive game of catch up.
There are key technologies that must be integrated into the fleet. Weapons systems like rail guns and lasers sound like science fiction, but are actually ready to deploy. These advanced weapons systems have one thing in common- a thirst for electricity.
Back in the late 90s and early 00s, the baby was planning to build the fleets force of destroyers and cruisers with SC21 program. A program to replace major surface combatants for the 21st century. This program resulted in a plans for a nuclear powered guided missed cruiser (CGN), as well as the Zumwalt class destroyer (DD) and the Littoral Combat Ship. The LCS has been modified to a much needed frigate (FF) design that will be much more effective than the original LCS design, but what happened to the large surface combatants?
The Navy felt it had a need for 19 new CGNs. These would be split between a more traditional implementation with up to 256 vertical launch tubes and eventually rail guns, and an eventual ballistic missile defense ship variant. The CGN was cancelled by the Obama administration, before a single hull was laid down. I urge you to focus on the single greatest threat China has deployed to destroy our aircraft carriers. A new ballistic missile.
The cruiser was was replaced by an upgraded Arleigh Burke class destroyer, which does not produce enough electricity to deploy the new, game changing technologies. This was typical of the short sightedness of the Obama administration on matters of defense.
The administration forced a similar fate on the new Zumwalt class destroyers. These hulls do produce enough electricity, but the order was cut from 32 ships to just 3.
We have the designs and ship building capacity to produce a full run of these ships, as well as as additional ships of the new frigate design. That will fix part of the problem. We still need to augment the punch of the fleet.
For this, I would propose a fleet of 14 Nimitz and Ford class carriers to be augmented by a new class of light aircraft carrier (CVL). Augmenting the carrier fleet with a new CVL should be done by building out a new hull, not robbing the Marines of its big deck amphibious ships. This new light carrier should be outfitted with catapults and the capability to launch E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft.
This leaves us with one more major ship design to transform the Navy. An arsenal ship. This arsenal ship should be a large hull brimming with missiles. The magic happens when you network all of this together, including the fleets F-35 strike fighters.
The stealthy F-35 can control these missiles. It can do it without detection and far behind enemy lines. The arsenal ship can launch anti air missiles, allowing the F-35 to defend the fleet far better than the legacy fighters employed by the navy now. Imagine a foreign enemy launching a large raid against one of our carrier battle groups. This near peer competitor throws 200 aircraft at us. The arsenal ship launches it anti-air missiles, which are guided to its targets by our F-35s. This attack is also accompanied by a ballistic missiles threat. Our new CGNs make quick work of their warheads. This could be the face of modern warfare. If we act now.