WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy’s top officer wants to expand the reach of each of his ships, and he’s looking to networking to do it.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the current trajectory of his shipbuilding program gets the Navy to 355 ships sometime in the late 2030s.

“[That] is way late to me,” Richardson told an audience at the Office of Naval Research’s Science and Technology Expo. “We need to get to get that equivalent naval power but we need to get there in the 2020s, that’s the decade of competition. … As the person whose consumed with getting the Next Navy, I’m saying ‘let’s get building.’”

The Navy is going to look to increase its networking between platforms and systems as a way of gaining an advantage over the potential adversaries more quickly, given the long timeline associated with a massive naval buildup, Richardson said.

The industrial base could support an extra 30 ships over the next seven years to help get to the goal, he said, but even such an extravagant expenditure – which wouldn’t be likely under Budget Control Act spending caps – would still leave the fleet about 40 ships short of its 355-ship goal.

Richardson argues that increased competition with China and Russia and the proliferation of surveillance technology means that the Navy was going to have to create new advantages by both growing the fleet and increasing both the capabilities the interoperability of each of its ships.

“How do all these platforms work together?” Richardson asked. “In the extreme, I’d want to network everything to everything.”

Richardson said increasing both the number of ships and the capabilities on them provided a linear path forward to grow U.S. naval might, but increasing the networking would bend the curve towards achieving the capabilities of a larger fleet faster. 

Interoperability and networking were major considerations contained the request-for-information on the Navy’s next-generation frigate, known as FFG(X).

The RFI called for a frigate able to establish a complicated picture of a tactical environment with its on-board sensors, unmanned systems and embarked aircraft and beam that information back to the fleet through secure communications.

To achieve that, the Navy is planning to use systems that already in wide use in the fleet and that integrate well.

“We’ve got to make sure that these ships can fit into a future distributed maritime operations and be a contributor to that wider network of systems,” said the Navy’s surface warfare director Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall in a Defense News interview July 10. “And to do that you need some commonalities. There is a big move afoot to get more common systems and to think about these things on the front end.”