Amidst the discussion, many experts agree on one thing: the current fleet size of 275 ships, which is projected to increase to 308 over the next decade, is not big enough to meet all of the day-to-day needs of U.S. Combatant Commanders around the globe. Analysis from the Navy and various think tanks indicate that the number of ships required falls in the vicinity of 350.
Approximately 100 of the Navy's 274 deployable ships are at sea at a given time. Some experts believe that ratio is wearing down U.S. ships and service members. Increasing the fleet's size could allow for shorter deployments, better personnel retention, and fewer gaps in aircraft carrier strike groups in theater.
The more difficult question beyond fleet size is what types of ships are required to best defend the nation and support the Navy's "forward presence" strategy, which involves maintaining a visible forward presence as well as a network of allies to supplement the U.S. Navy in maintaining that forward presence.
The Navy appears to be at a crossroads as it seeks to define the optimal mix of ship types. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is focused on delivering an affordable ship that can operate close to the coastline and have greater relevancy in bilateral training exercises with U.S. allies. At the same time, the need for the Aircraft Carrier Strike Group to deploy forward and send messages to potential aggressors has not reduced at all. Meanwhile, there are very strong indicators that the U.S. should continue its leading role in providing our allies with a ballistic missile defense shield, which would require a mix of DDG-51 and CG-52 Class Aegis Combatants.
There are no easy answers to these questions. Reaching a conclusion will require more dialogue – but these discussions must go beyond fleet size and also focus on fleet composition.
CAPT Jon Kaufmann, U.S. Navy, Ret.
VP of Naval Programs
Saab North America
This post is part of Saab USA's U.S. Military Insights blog series, where our employees who have served in the U.S. military offer their thoughts on the issues affecting their branch.