The Drift

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Navigation Brief

ALEXANDRIA – Good Evening, Drifters

Author's Note: This piece was originally published June 25 as an e-newsletter.

Well, this is always an interesting time of year with the budget going through Congress. It is a cycle that starts in February or March, works its way through the Spring and, in an ideal world, ends by summer or, at the latest, Fall.

Or it all falls apart and Congress hurdles toward a shutdown or continuing resolution. However it shakes out, it’s always fascinating to see the push and pull between the Navy and its overlords in Congress.

This was a story I posted today that lays out how Congress is stripping funding from the design effort for the Large Surface Combatant:

Read: Congress aims to strip funding for the US Navy’s next-gen large surface combatant

Essentially it seems the Senate Armed Services Committee took the funding for two reasons: They didn’t get the 30-year shipbuilding plan from the Pentagon this year and Congress doesn’t want the Navy getting ahead of itself on new ship classes before they figure out the key subsystems that will go into it first.

I want to talk briefly about how we got to this place and what the Navy can do to get out of it. So, let’s get into it in the Navigation Brief.

Let’s Drift!


Transformation 2.0

So, my friends over at USNI News did a good job laying out what’s going on with the current plan to get a force structure assessment together that integrates both the Marine Corps’ new Naval Integration plan and a fleet of unmanned surface and subsurface vessels.

Excerpt: The Navy has lost much of its power on deciding what its future fleet will look like, with a Pentagon-led effort set to produce secretary of defense directives to the service by the end of the summer on what the fleet’s future plans should include.

This Future Navy Force Study is replacing the Navy and Marine Corps’ own plan that was rejected by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper earlier this year. The study brings in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and a think tank into the process of deciding what the future fleet will look like in the coming decades.

Typically, the Navy would have released its 30-year shipbuilding plan in February alongside its FY 2021 budget request. An Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment (INFSA), developed alongside the Marine Corps to reflect some major changes in how the services will conduct amphibious warfare, was also due out at the beginning of the year.

Instead, Esper held them back from Congress, uncomfortable with not only the decisions the Navy made but also with the basic assumptions the Navy used to come to those conclusions. He then directed Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist to oversee the new studies.

At the time, Esper couched the situation as wanting to review the Navy’s INFSA and shipbuilding plan through three reviews: one by the Navy, one by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office, and one by an outside think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Full Article Here: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on how the Navy can get to 355 ships

Now a lot of what this goes over Esper forecast in an interview with Defense News in February, where he stated that DoD was going to take control of the effort to craft a new force structure assessment.

Excerpt: Esper said his office would be taking a leading role in bringing Congress to the table on a new fleet design.

“DoD will run this … I want to invite some of our congressional interested parties in, certainly from the defense committees, to observe the process and watch what we’re doing and how we’re going about it,” Esper said. “That’s part of what I want to do, is to invite folks in.”

In terms of planning, Esper said the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), along with the Navy, will be conducting a series of war games and exercises in the coming months in order to figure out the way forward. But any major decisions will be based around the completion of a new joint war plan for the whole department, which the secretary said should be finished this summer.

“I think once we go through this process with the future fleet — that’ll really be the new foundation, the guiding post,” Esper said. “It’ll give us the general direction we need to go, and I think that’ll be a big game changer in terms of future fleet, for structure, for the Navy and Marine Corps team.”

Full article here: Defense Secretary Mark Esper on how the Navy can get to 355 ships

This all feeds into the frustration Congress is feeling with the Navy: This is a very slow and bureaucratic way of arriving at a fleet design. And given the Navy’s long track record of doing a Force Structure Assessment, then immediately launching into another Force Structure Assessment, followed by still another Force Structure Assessment it may be tempting to become cynical. In fact, I have a little personal policy to not cover each and every force structure assessment the Navy launches, because what’s the point?

Yes, it is absurd how many studies the Navy conducts before it arrives at a decision. Since 2016, we are on Force Structure Assessment number three. But I want to present a thought: Maybe this one is a little different.

The fleet we currently enjoy – cruiser, destroyers, attack submarines and aircraft carriers alike – were the product of a Cold War-era fleet that has been improved over time. What we’re talking about now is a fundamental shift in the construction and force structure of the Navy. But as the Navy and Marine Corps seek to more closely integrate with each other to take on China, the Navy’s Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, combined with the desire to integrate more unmanned systems, could mean this is a more important force structure assessment than most, which you can more-often-than-not, use as kindling and not regret the loss.

Let’s turn to the words of Ron O’Rourke of Congressional Research Service, or Ronald the Wise, who has forgotten more about the US Navy than I’ll ever know, to address why I think a little patience may be necessary. From his June 2, 2020, report, “Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress.

Excerpt: Statements from DON officials suggest that the INFSA could result in a once-in-a-generation change in the Navy’s fleet architecture, meaning the mix of ships that make up the Navy and how those ships are combined into formations and used to perform various missions.

“As detailed in the following sections of this report, statements from DON officials suggest that the INFSA could shift the fleet to a more distributed architecture that includes a reduced proportion of larger ships, an increased proportion of smaller ships, and a newly created category of large unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Such a change in fleet architecture could alter, perhaps substantially, the mix of ships to be procured for the Navy and the distribution of Navy shipbuilding work among the nation’s shipyards.”

The Navy and Marine Corps are rethinking how the fleet is put together from the ground up. And let’s not forget the series of leadership shakeups that have upset this process. The Navy has been going though a lot of shit at the moment. So lets take the magnitude of a once-in-a-generation rethinking of the composition of the fleet, combine it with WAY TOO MUCH leadership churn, and let’s consider cutting the Navy and the Pentagon a little slack as they try and figure out how to reinvent the Navy.

While OSD has been inserting itself in the process, isn’t that OSD’s right? If we’re thinking about reshaping the Navy, shouldn’t there be alignment between OSD, the Navy and the White House? And might that alignment take time? Might that answer take some heated debate?

Look, all this could change in a Biden Administration, as appears at the moment to be likely. But I have my doubts. This direction – closer alignment between Navy and Marine Corps, a slow deemphasis on carriers for more precision-guided, long-range munitions and an increasing dependence on unmanned technology – this all goes back to the Obama Administration. It’s not going to change significantly with a new administration, would be my prediction.

So, let’s all chill a bit. Yes, the Navy stands to lose some money on Capitol Hill this year. It’s just one budget cycle. Let’s get this direction right. You want it bad? You get it bad.

Let’s go to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

Right to the links.

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