CNO Reflects on Navy “Tipping Point” Factors

Our own Joe Buff, avid submarine warfare fiction and non-fiction writer, attended an April 8 New York Council of the Navy League luncheon where Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead discussed some of the Navy’s potential future “tipping points.” We recently wrote up a paper from the Center for Naval Analyses that examined the same subject.

By Joe Buff
Defense Tech Futurist and Submarine Warfare Correspondent

CNO Roughead said recruiting is a big challenge for today’s Navy because the parents of today’s youth are in many cases themselves not military veterans. This is an important sea change compared to prior generations of youths whose parents had served in Korea, Viet Nam, or WWII. Thus it is more important for the Navy itself to reach out as much as possible to prospective enlistees, recruits, Naval Academy applicants, etc. and their families — by visiting high schools and colleges for instance, as the CNO was doing while in New York.

The adequate size of the Navy is also challenged by currently anticipated defense allocation and appropriation levels that will probably fall short of what is required to sustain the current 30 Year Shipbuilding Plan.

Submarines are especially important. (ADM Roughead said he is often accused of having gone over to “the dark side” in that he thinks very highly of the immense utility of subs even though he is not a Submariner). He emphasized that the Virginia class is extremely capable and is very much not a “Cold War relic” as some anti-submarine pundits still claim. He pointed out that the replacement for the Ohio-class SSBN design now started will see the last sub of that new class serve until 2080, illustrating how vital and difficult it is to get key features of that design just right.

He commented that as we are seeing with China, a nation’s navy and its economy tend to rise or fall together. In years to come the U.S. is likely to see a shortfall in the size of the submarine force compared to global demand. It is very important that the USN not fall behind emerging competitors or it will become a regional not global navy. Capabilities per hull are important to remain genuine world leaders in undersea warfare, just as in surface and air warfare, but having the minimum number of hulls really needed is also vital as no warship can be in 2 places at once no matter how sophisticated it might be.

  • Blight

    I don’t know, our economy has contracted some but the Navy hasn’t exactly “fallen” by any stretch.

  • Chops

    The navy needs to beat down Obamas’ door and explain in detail the increase in navies of countries hostile to the U S.If they keep cutting spending we’ll be lucky if the navy can field 3 carrier battle groups.

  • Blight

    I imagine when we get UUV’s they can do anti-mine work for the Navy, and possibility outcompete the modular LCS that is supposed to do that kind of job. Might even leapfrog a few specialist classes of vessels with deployable UUVs.

  • Joe Buff

    Byron et. al.: Good morning from Wash DC, am here for the 5th annual Milblog Conference ( & DefenseTech are among the major corporate sponsors), and then the DC-area Submarine Birthday Ball tonite. BTW today 10 April is the 47th anniversary of the loss of USS THRESHER with all hands. R.I.P.

    On the subject of individual Navy hulls become more powerful, this is of course very true and the development of unmanned and autonomous undersea and aerial vehicles will expand the capability & lethality of individual vessels, as will improving netcentric warfare, smarter and longer raange standoff weapons, etc.. BUT, this only goes so far and there really is an irreducible minimum number of individual separate hulls needed over the next several decades which studies have pegged at 313 ships (including subs) of all types. The problem is that the current level of annual spending on shipbuilding does not support the level of construction needed to reach and sustain 313 ships. Projections suggest the nunber will drop as more and more current ships need to be retired at the end of their safe hull/systems lives, to the point where around 2030 we may see only 280 ships in the U.S.N. This is just not enough to cover the global commitments the Navy is expected to need to cover on that timeframe. Watch especially for a big drop in the total number of commissioned fast-attacks as the remaining boats of the Los Angeles class are decommissioned in droves as their hulls age out over the next couple decades. This trend is dangerous for national security and world peace.

  • Joe Buff

    Woops not sure why my comment just got deleted!

  • Joe Buff

    My point was that the rising capabilities of individual ships don’t make up for the irreducible need in the 2020s and 2030s for 313 separate individual warship hulls of all types. The current level of funding for warship construction does not support reaching and maintaining this level. More likely we’d see 280-ish ships around 2030, due to the repeated need to decommission some existing ships as their safe hull lives expire. This is especially true of fast-attack subs as the remaining Los Angeles class boats will have been retired in the 2020s and the new construction pace at even 2 a year won’t keep up. Watch for the number of SSNs to decline from 54 now to barely 40, which is just not enough to cover global commitments no matter how good and powerful each vessel might be as a single unit.

  • Oble

    Countries with growing economies have a growing navy only to the military socialists out there does this mean growing the navy will get a bigger economy.

  • Joe Buff

    Oble: i do believe that history has shown time and again that growing the Navy to get closer to projected size needs will definitely benefit the economy.

  • William C.

    Time to get a 300+ ship Navy back on track. No more excuses.

    • Chops

      Only one excuse-It is not good for a military officers’ career to buck the administration-end of arguement.

    • Blight

      More ships combined with bigger ships asked to do more with less weapons does not help anyone.

      We could try forward basing more ships overseas, and do repair/rebuild work overseas as well to keep ships near the front line. Having as many ships near your hotzones as possible is effectively like having more ships, but having many of them too close to home.

  • Blight

    The Navy should probably take back design and construction of it's vessels. I mean, the reason we outsourced was to save money, and we're paying more to have somebody screw up and bill it back to the government, what savings is there?

    National security isn't as important as profiteering, apparently. Considering the woes of pricetags, I suspect ships will get smaller and cheaper to reflect shipyards inability to deliver large projects on time, and they will simply attempt to repair and upgrade old platforms in a similar fashion that is done to airplanes (which also experience overruns).

    Funny how GD and Lockheed are both experiencing cost overruns with LCS. Makes you wonder.

    • Chops

      Like I said before-Enterprise went in for a refit w/a cost of 453mil.-it comes out this month w/ a final cost of 670mil.After all that money it is projected to have 2 deployments left then She gets retired.I know either She could stay active longer or the money on the refit could have gone to a new smaller ship.

  • Joe Buff

    Blight: The USN has been deploying more ships forward in WESTPAC for instance by homeporting some in Japan or Guam. A real problem is that ships and crews are deploying with grueling intensity.

  • Oblat

    “i do believe that history has shown time and again that growing the Navy to get closer to projected size needs will definitely benefit the economy” - Joe

    If 100 ships magically appeared today I’d be interested to hear what the effect on the US economy would be and how.

  • Oblat

    The navy will shrink because it serves no purpose. All the major jobs have gone and we’re down to chasing pirates and providing a floating parade.

  • Joe Buff

    Oblat: Effects would include: a huge job stimulus, much more certainty among US and global corporations about near future peace and stability of business conditions for investment and expansion, humongous future savings from avoiding an eventual and almost inevitable Next Big War of some kind somewhere, among other things. And don’t forget hot spots all over Africa’s coast, Iran, India/Pakistan, North Korea, and on and on.

  • ohwilleke

    Where’s the mission?

    The Ohio class subs have a pretty clear mission.

    But, what are our reasons for having attack submarines. Is it anti-surface ship warfare? Anti-submarine warfare? Something else? Against whom? Why is it better than the alternatives in that mission? Why this specific number?

    Building billion dollar plus submarines without a clear mission doesn’t make sense. If we are going to spend our treasure on them, then they need to be the clear choice for a particular military need and we need to be explicit about what those needs involve, rather than invoking generalities about a strong navy being important to a strong nation or the like.

  • Joe Buff

    ohwilleke: The U.S. Sub Force is extremely busy and stretched thin performing all the missions you mention and others such as intelligence gathering, espionage, special ops support, carrier group escort, and counter-terror/piracy/contraband worldwide. Details are classified, stealth is essential, read the daily headlines to gain a sense of where in the world our subs might be operating. SSN deployments have had to be stretched from 6 months to 7 months due to the shortfall of hulls vs. requirements.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    Got an interesting bit of information this AM that may be of interest to the topic here. The private equity group that bought Chrysler and them peddled it to the US Government as a company to big to fail for obscene profits, now has its hands on NG. I won’t go into the offering, but the plan is rather simple sell off the company jewels, which has already started, then bankrupt the company and most likely forcing a Government take over what is left of NG. The Gulf Coast shipyards are high on the list of assets to be reduced or sold. One yard has already been sold in Mobile to a foreign shipbuilder. The UAV operation is on the block and a company from Israel is considered a good bet for buying that division.

    Who is involved in this pyrate raid on one of America’s largest defense contractors, would you believe former VP Dan Quale and former Sec. of the Treasury John Snow, all real “patriots”.

    Byron Skinner

  • Source “A”

    Hey Joe…is this for a new book you’re working on?…

    • Joe Buff

      Source “A”: Not specifically, but all of my writings non-fiction and fiction touch on this continuing issue of The Incredible Shrinking Navy and the implications to global secuirty.

  • Source Baloney

    Exactly….This has been a 2 year on going hoax by someone verified in the Navy, who was at the lunch with you. This hoax is being run against American citizens and it should be an embarrassment to the Navy. I don’t know if it is a one man show, or organized, but it should stop…people are being used. Write a story Joe…call this to the attention of someone at the Navy that gives a damn about integrity. I’m being told the hoaxer is a Lt Cmdr.
    Plenty of background here…

  • Interesting

    Who did this alleged hoax? What was.the alleged hoax?