The Course To A 355 Ship Navy Is Becoming Increasingly Challenging To Plot

There is a lot of souring rhetoric filled with grand hopes and dreams when it comes to achieving a 355 ship U.S. Navy fleet in the coming decades, but it’s clear that the sea going service will have a much harder time finding a way to reach that goal than many would like to believe. Tough decisions that are critical to realizing a larger naval end strength, some of which include breaking with decades of established habits, many of which run counter to massive shipbuilding special interest influences, are fast approaching, or in some cases, they have already come and gone.

At every turn there is a risk and reward proposition, but the idea that the Navy will build its way to its 355 ship goal alone is a losing mindset that serves to satisfy the shipbuilding special interests and the Pentagon’s obsession with obtaining new platforms at great cost over affordably updating the ones it already owns. Also, this grand wish for a 355 ship fleet—it has about 275 ships today—sits against the harsh reality that the Navy is already tired and fractured.

The fact that in the span of a handful of months the service had put two major surface combatants out of action and lost many lives in the process due to its own systemic failings underlines this truth. But just the Navy’s near-term procurement and force structure choices for its surface combatant fleet alone can make or break the prospects of achieving its grand goal, notwithstanding the many other issues it currently faces. Tico Twilight?

One of the most critical conundrums facing the Navy and its future force structure objectives is what to do with its aging Ticonderoga class cruisers. These vessels offer command and control and weapons capacity that their increasingly complex Arleigh Burke class destroyer counterparts don’t. The oldest eleven of these ships—half of the active cruiser fleet—are approaching the end of their predetermined service lives and are slated to be decommissioned at a rate of two per year starting in 2020. But with some upgrade and sustainment dollars they could continue to provide a unique set of highly important capabilities for many years to come. USS Lake Champlain CG-57 By most accounts there is indeed a lot of life left in these vessels, but everything from the ships’ increasingly finicky and maintenance intensive SPY-1 radar to their piping and mechanical systems would need TLC or replacement in order to realize an extended service life. The vessel’s radar in particular needs a major upgrade to keep it not only viable, but even reliable on any level if the ships are to remain in the fleet.

There is no easy answer to this issue as the radar cannot be swapped out for the far heavier SPY-6 air and missile defense radar (AMDR) that is slated to outfit the Navy’s upcoming super-sized variant of its Arleigh Burke class destroyers. Nearly half of the Arleigh Burke class design is being redesigned to accommodate this new, larger, solid-state radar system, […]