As the Navy moves toward a 355-vessel fleet within the next 10 to 12 years, its senior-most officer is committed to ensuring that growth continues without compromising three key areas: readiness, capabilities, and capacity.
Speaking during an April 29 webinar held by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, Chief of Naval Operations Arm. Michael M. Gilday described how the service has been operating under “a relatively flat acquisition budget” since 2010. Even with the acquisition of new nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, Gilday said that the Navy’s $715 billion budget is allowing the service to be “hovering – lucky to actually keep pace with inflation.”
Rises in personnel and maintenance costs – which outpace inflation – will make the task of fostering projected growth all the more difficult, Gilday said – particularly in an environment where global threats – extending beyond those posed by Russia and China alone – are persistent and emerging.
“I kind of take a realistic approach to an investment strategy,” Gilday said. “I’m not going to sacrifice capacity and readiness at the expense of capacity. We need a fleet that’s more ready, and more capable, and more lethal more than we need a bigger fleet that’s less ready, and less capable, and less lethal.”
Gilday elaborated on his ideas for each:
· Readiness remains Gilday’s number one priority. “I truly feel that if we do get in a scrap with an adversary that our fleet and its commanders are likely not to meet all of our expectations but will certainly all to the level to which we have trained them and that we have prepared them for the fight,” he said. As such, investments in manpower and new training frameworks are key, he said.
· Ensuring that capability remains strong means recognizing that 70 to 80 percent of the current fleet will be operational 10 years from now, Gilday said. Hypersonic weapons deliverable from submarines, ships and aircraft are essential components, he said, but they will require sound networks to function properly. “We’re not going to be able to field the hybrid fleet of the future, we’re not going to be able to decide that faster than the adversary, unless we get the network piece right,” he said.
· Addressing capacity, Gilday said, “I think we will grow the Navy at an affordable rate.” The parameters of such growth are now shaped by the recent Future Naval Force Structure, he said, which among other things set the 355-ship goal. The plan “is really helping us inside our budget lines to det ermine what … priorities are with respect to the composition of the fleet that we need to field to both deter and defeat an adversary.”