Fleet Architecture Study: Emphasize Effectiveness Over Efficiency
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — A new fleet architecture study by a Washington think tank calls for changes in the structure of the Navy’s fleet to better position it for a new era of great-power competition.
“In a period of great power competition, posture — not presence — will need to be the focus of a future fleet architecture,” said a new report, “Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy,” authored by naval analysts for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). “The challenges of great power competition and conflict will require changes to the ships, aircraft, weapons, sensors, basing, and readiness processes of U.S. naval forces.”
The study was conducted for the Navy in response to requirements of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, CSBA’s Bryan Clark, one of the study’s authors, said in a Feb. 8 e-mail to Seapower.
The study foresees a return to great-power competition and a “deny-and-punish” approach to confronting adversaries rather than responding to aggression after the fact.
“This ‘deny-and-punish’ approach to conventional deterrence is how the United States and its allies countered the Soviet threat during the Cold War, and it has significant implications for fleet architecture,” the study said. “This strategic approach will increase America’s reliance on forward-postured forces — particularly naval forces — that could rapidly interdict aggression and conduct attacks on targets the enemy values to compel the aggression to stop.
“To address the challenges posed by Russia and China, the Navy will need to focus on sustaining an effective posture for conventional deterrence rather than an efficient presence to meet near-term operational needs,” the study said.
“This study proposes dividing the deployed fleet into two main groups: ‘Deterrence Forces’ that are organized into discrete regions rather than Combatant Commander (CCDR) areas of responsibility (AOR), and a ‘Maneuver Force’ that is assigned broadly to the Indo–Asia–Pacific theater and composed of the carrier strike groups deployed today in the Central and Pacific CCDR AORs,” the study said. “Separating the deployed fleet into these two main groups enables Deterrence Forces to be tailored to their region and improves their ability to prepare and adapt to adversary advancements. And because Deterrence Forces will remain in their region, the Maneuver Force is able to respond to tensions and conflict in any part of the Indo–Asia–Pacific theater, including the Middle East, without leaving an opening for opportunistic aggression by an adversary seeking to exploit a shift in U.S. focus to the area of conflict.
“Operationally, separating the deployed fleet into Deterrence Forces and the Maneuver Force enables commanders to align elements of the fleet with the appropriate mission,” the study said. “Deterrence Forces would consist of surface combatants, submarines, and amphibious ships that can provide prompt, high-capacity fires to deter an adversary seeking a rapid fait accompli, such as China or Russia. The Maneuver Force would consist of a Multi-Carrier Task Group designed to deliver sustained combat power at moderate levels over an indefinite period in relief of Deterrence Forces.”
The study recommended a wide variety of force packaging structures, in addition to the familiar carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups, to counter any given threat. It also recommended that the readiness and training cycles of the Deterrence Forces and Maneuver Force be different.
“The proposed fleet architecture proposes changes to these readiness cycles to improve the ability of fleet units to learn, experiment, adapt, and provide more time for maintenance of platforms and systems between deployments,” the study said.
“Deterrence Forces will use a higher operational tempo (OPTEMPO) readiness cycle to reduce the number of platforms needed to maintain the required posture and increase their operational proficiency,” the study said. “To enable them to train and adapt, however, Deterrence Forces will limit their operational time to 50 percent. This will also provide more time for maintenance to be conducted between underway periods compared to today’s FDNF [Forward-Deployed Naval Force], which operates about two thirds of the time.
“Compared to the Deterrence Force, the Maneuver Force will need to be prepared for a wider range of possible operational environments, more potential adversaries, a larger number of alliance relationships, and a higher likelihood of being faced with high-intensity sustained combat,” the study said. “Therefore, it would employ a lower OPTEMPO readiness cycle like today’s [continental U.S.] CONUS-based forces to provide more time to prepare for deployment compared to the Deterrence Forces.”
The study also recommends a fleet size of 382 ships (including patrol vessels), including a battle force of 340 ships, compared with the 308-ship battle force goal under the previous administration and the 355 ships recommended by the recent Force Structure Assessment.