CNO lays out future fleet he wants: 500 ships, 12 carriers, 150 unmanned vessels
“I've concluded, consistent with the analysis, that we need an able force of over 500 ships," the Navy's top admiral told attendees at the West 2022 conference in San Diego.
WEST 2022: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday today offered a glimpse at a specific composition of ships he believes should make up the Navy’s future fleet, just months before a new budget request and service force structure assessment are due to be unveiled.
The numbers, he said, are grounded in the service’s 2020 assessment, referred to as the FSA. However, that FSA was completed under the previous administration and ultimately signed out by political appointees who have all since departed, including then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was a vocal proponent of increasing shipbuilding. Pentagon leadership under the Biden administration has been more muted on the issue, giving little signal about whether the FSA was still relevant.
With no fleshed out, up-to-date long-term shipbuilding plan available — something the Pentagon has promised in the next budget cycle — the admiral’s remarks, delivered as the fiscal 2023 budget is being finalized, are notable
“I’ve concluded, consistent with the analysis, that we need an able force of over 500 ships,” the top admiral told attendees at the West 2022 conference in San Diego. “And my view on carrier aviation remains unchanged.”
By that, Gilday means he wants to see 12 aircraft carriers. In terms of amphibious ships, he said the Navy needs nine big deck amphibious vessels and somewhere between 20 and 30 smaller ships, presumably referring to the Marine Corps’ Light Amphibious Warship, to support them.
“60 destroyers and probably 50 frigates, 70 attack submarines and a dozen ballistic missile submarines,” Gilday continued. “About 100 support ships, and probably looking into the future, 150 unmanned.”
The numbers Gilday offered are relatively close to the ones produced under the Trump administration and dubbed by Esper as “Battle Force 2045.” While speaking to reporters on the sidelines of West 2022, he said the Navy is in the middle of a new force structure assessment that will inform the FY24 budget.
How and when the Pentagon chooses to discuss that new assessment is an open question. But given the timeline Gilday offered, the Navy’s FSA will need to be completed soon, as the military’s budgeting cycle calls for the services to begin drafting their FY24 budgets in the coming weeks. Separate from that, the administration is also preparing to release a new national defense strategy in the coming months.
Asked by reporters if the next FSA will change the numbers he proffered, Gilday said he doesn’t think they will drop, noting that in recent years, the force assessments the service has undertaken almost always point to needing a Navy larger than the 355 ship minimum stumped by the Trump administration.
While having the CNO publicly call for a force of that size is a start, the real question will be whether the Navy is capable of fighting with Congress to secure the needed funds, something the service struggled to do even with a White House friendly to a larger shipbuilding budget.
“This would require a significant expansion of our shipbuilding industrial base and our repair facilities,” said Matthew Collette, a professor of naval architecture at the University of Michigan. “This will not be cheap.”
“I've concluded, consistent with the analysis, that we need a naval force of over 500 ships," the Navy's top admiral told attendees at the West 2022 conference in San Diego.
12 Aircraft carriers
20-30 smaller ships
70 attack submarines
12 ballistic missile submarines
100 support ships