Category Archives: Force Structure

In Dire Need: Why The Coast Guard Needs the LCS

By James Martin and Jasper Campbell

In the spring of 2021, defense-minded internet message boards and social media were ablaze at headlines that the U.S. Navy would be decommissioning the first hulls of the decade-old Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).1 A chorus of “good riddance” posts and thought pieces followed. Though the Navy maintains it intends to keep using both Independence and Freedom variants of the LCS, it is no secret that the program has been beleaguered with class-wide mechanical issues.2 As many in naval thought circles lament and debate what the Navy will do in the way of near shore combatants in contested waters, a unique opportunity has emerged for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is currently in the throes of one of the largest asset recapitalizations in its history. 9 of 11 National Security Cutters (NSCs) and 40 of 64 planned Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) are in service, and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) are planned.3 The service also plans to acquire 6 icebreakers and a fleet of waterways commerce cutters.3 Based on a legacy fleet size circa 2007, this profound growth represents a 20% increase in cutters.4 But is this sufficient, given the global demand signal for the unique combination of soft power, capabilities, authorities, and agreements the Coast Guard brings to the national security table?5 This demand is compounding yearly, with the service continuing their obligations in the Polar Regions and the Middle East, alongside new commitments in the Indo-Pacific, Oceania, and Mediterranean.6

The Coast Guard’s acquisition boom will simply replace its legacy stable of assets; if the service expects to operate successfully as a global representative of U.S. interests, it will need every additional hull it can get. While the fraught LCS program leads many to ponder its future in the Navy, the Coast Guard could inherit a boon in the now 31-hull LCS program and close this gap.

Not as Ridiculous as it Seems!

On its face, the Coast Guard accepting a problematic class of ships from the Navy is foolhardy and irresponsible. After all, why does the Coast Guard need an LCS fleet when the OPC, slated to replace the current medium endurance cutter fleet, is scheduled to come online in 2022? When one peels back the layers, the OPC becomes less of an immediate salve. The first OPC Argus is still very much under construction at the small Florida-based Easter Shipbuilding.7 24 more ships are planned at $441 million a piece, but the contract will likely be rebid at other shipyards with the possibility for growth on the initial cost per vessel.7

With this in mind, it would be rash to assume at the very outset of a 25-hull acquisition program that the next sixteen years of shipbuilding will be executed without a hitch and on schedule. This does not account for further casualties befalling the ancient Reliance and Famous-class cutters, which are nearing 70 and 30 years of age, respectively.8 One need only look back to the NSC acquisition program’s not insignificant cost overruns, delays, and rework to get a feel for how the OPC acquisition program may progress. The risk grows quickly when one considers it would not take much of a production delay or too many debilitating casualties to place the aging medium endurance cutter fleet at a significant deficit.

While the Freedom-class variant of the LCS has faced myriad mechanical issues, one need only look to the history of the nearly 70-year-old Reliance-class cutters for a blueprint of how the Coast Guard could turn the LCS program around to the benefit of the service. In its original conception, the 210-foot Reliance-class was designed with a Combined Diesel and Gas (CODAG) propulsion system.9 Just four years into the program, the Coast Guard scrapped this more complicated system in favor of a simpler, “bullet-proof” diesel power plant.9 Though the cutters have since undergone mid-service life overhauls, similar diesel power plants still drive the cutters today, powering the full spectrum of Coast Guard missions.

Conveniently, the long suffering LCS employs a similar CODAG system.9 It is not far-fetched to conceive that the Coast Guard would be able to reconfigure the complicated and electrically dependent LCS propulsion system for a fraction of the OPC’s cost. When one considers that the Coast Guard’s annual budget hovers around $12 billion and factors in the simultaneous recapitalization of several ship classes at once, taking on the LCS program would save the service precious resources for other priorities. By reconfiguring the ships, the Coast Guard would likely eliminate several of the outstanding complaints of the LCS, including maintenance costs and woefully short endurance.

The simpler power plant configuration would eliminate byzantine electrical problems and reduce maintenance to the size and scope of modern Coast Guard platforms, such as the NSC. Second, by jettisoning the fuel hungry CODAG plant, the LCS would have significantly more endurance to carry out the spectrum of Coast Guard missions. Originally conceived to operate at sprint speeds in world’s maritime flash points, the LCS would still be able to achieve respectable speeds without requiring weekly stops for fuel or the support of an oiler to be successful at its assigned mission.10 Critics would do well to note that the OPC was designed with no turbines and a max speed of 20 knots, because the Coast Guard determined these speeds would not be needed for the OPCs mission set.11 Essentially, an LCS power plant reconfiguration would result in no significant loss of capability relative to intended future medium endurance cutter performance.

Taken in sum, these considerations illuminate that the prospect of the Coast Guard inheriting the 31-hull LCS program is not as fanciful as it might seem at first blush.

We Have Done it Before

Repurposing a highly capable Navy platform for the Coast Guard mission set is not a new idea. In March of 2000, a Coast Guard crew painted the trademark racing stripe on a 179-foot Navy Cyclone-class patrol ship, originally the USS Cyclone, and renamed it the USCGC Cyclone (WPC 1). Cyclone served as a Coast Guard cutter for four years, during which its capabilities in performing Coast Guard missions were thoroughly tested. Clearly, the assessment was a positive one, as four more Navy Cyclone-class platforms were commissioned as Coast Guard cutters in 2004, enjoying up to seven years of service. While not particularly enduring by Coast Guard standards, the Cyclone-class’ tenure with the Coast Guard is generally perceived positively; the platform’s speed and maneuverability are frequently cited as advantages.12

Beyond immediate use, it is clear that the Cyclone’s stint with the Coast Guard served a broader impact. Compared side by side, the Cyclone and later commissioned Sentinel-class (FRCs) possess a remarkable number of shared characteristics — similar tonnage, dimensions, crew compliment, and endurance — all indications that operators saw value in the platform (short of the precision-guided munitions and grenade launchers). It is likely a number of characteristics and associated requirements, gleaned from Coast Guardsmen’s experience on the Cyclone-class eventually made their way into the FRC’s final specifications. Beyond just decreasing the gap between demands on the service and available assets to satisfy it, the LCS would prove an extremely fruitful testbed for informing future acquisitions.

Pathway to Success

While fiscal practicality is a fine reason for the Coast Guard to consider taking on the fraught LCS program, there are positive practical considerations for implementing the transition as well. Despite headlines lamenting its shortcomings, the LCS has enjoyed success in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility conducting one of the mainstays of the Coast Guard mission-set: Counter Narcotics enforcement.13 Additionally, provided the aforementioned mechanical issues could be addressed, a 31-strong LCS fleet would be available for relatively immediate transition, allowing the Coast Guard to scale operations more rapidly than if constrained by the OPC’s projected acquisition cycle.

As the Coast Guard has proved its utility in the global arena, its mission set has grown to be viewed as a potent combination of diplomatic soft power and military hard power. Combined with hyper-competent mariners and unique law enforcement capabilities, the Coast Guard has never been in greater demand. It is ideally suited to perform the largely constabulary and diplomatic missions required in the Polar regions, Middle East, Indo-Pacific, Central and South America, Africa’s Western and Eastern coasts, and Mediterranean. This paradigm shift will unburden the U.S. Navy to focus on the high-end warfighting.

With the specter of strategic competition looming over the world’s maritime flashpoints, a Coast Guard manned and reconfigured LCS fleet may be the proverbial “easy button” to meeting the unprecedented demands on the service without waiting 10-15 years for the realization of a fully-fledged OPC program. In a dynamic global environment where the Coast Guard has ever new commitments on the horizon, taking a chance on an asset like the LCS represents a prudent exercise in strategic risk management. After all, beggars can’t be choosers, and in today’s security environment, neither can the Coast Guard.

Lieutenant James Martin is a Coast Guard Cutterman who has served aboard three Coast Guard cutters, including as commanding officer of the USCGC Ibis (WPB-87338). He holds a bachelor’s degree with honors in naval architecture and marine engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Lieutenant Jasper Campbell served on active duty for six years in the afloat and C5I communities. He is currently on a sabbatical, launching a technology startup, and hopes to return to sea in 2023 upon resuming active duty. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.


2. Russell, J. A. (2020). Twenty-First Century Innovation Pathways for the U.S. Navy in the Age of Competition. Naval War College Review, Summer 2020(73), number 3.

Featured Image: December 2019 – The littoral combat ship USS St. Louis (LCS 19) during acceptance trials. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

An Alternative History for U.S. Navy Force Structure Development

By John Hanley

U.S. Navy and Department of Defense bureaucratic and acquisition practices have frustrated innovations promoted by Chiefs of Naval Operations and the CNO Strategic Studies Groups over the past several decades.1 The Navy could have capabilities better suited to meet today’s challenges and opportunities had it pursued many of these innovations. This alternative history presents what the Navy could have been in 2019 had the Navy and DoD accepted the kinds of risks faced during the development of nuclear-powered ships, used similar prototyping practices, and accepted near-term costs for longer-term returns on that investment.

Actual events are in a normal font while alternatives are presented in italics.

Admiral Trost and Integrated Power Systems

Recognizing that electric drive offered significant anticipated benefits for U.S. Navy ships in terms of reducing ship life-cycle cost (including 18 to 25 percent less fuel consumption), increasing ship stealth, payload, survivability, and power available for non-propulsion uses, and taking advantage of a strong electrical power technological and industrial base, in September 1988, then-U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Carlisle Trost endorsed the development of integrated power systems (IPS) for electric drive and other ship’s power for use in the DDGX, which became the Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyer. He also established an IPS program office the following fiscal year.2

To reduce technical risk, the Navy began by prototyping electric drive on small waterplane area twin hull (swath) ships, including its special program for the Sea Shadow employing stealth technology. Using a program akin to Rickover’s having commissioned the USS Nautilus (SSN 571) in just over three years of being authorized to build the first nuclear powered submarine, the Navy commissioned its first Arleigh Burke destroyer with an IPS in 1992. Just as Rickover explored different nuclear submarine designs, the Navy developed various IPS prototypes as it explored the design space while gaining experience at sea and incorporating rapidly developing technology.

Admiral Kelso and Fleet Design

Admiral Frank Kelso became CNO in 1990 at the end of the Cold War, shortly before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Facing demands for a peace dividend. Admiral Kelso noted that the decisions the he made affected what the Navy would look like in 30-50 years and asked his SSG what the nation would need the naval forces for in future decades. The future pointed to the cost growth of military systems producing a much smaller fleet if the practice of replacing each class with the next generation of more expensive platforms continued. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Colin Powell’s Base Force proposal in February 1991 called for reducing the Navy to 451 ships with 12 carriers by 1995, reducing the fleet from 592 ships (including 14 carriers) in September 1989. Having just accepted this, Kelso’s SSG briefed him that that cost growth would result in a Navy of about 250 ships by the 2010s if the Navy and Defense Department continued to focus on procuring next generation platforms rather than capabilities.

Building upon his reorganization of OPNAV and inspired by the joint mission assessment process developed by his N-8, Vice Admiral Bill Owens, Kelso disciplined OPNAV to employ this methodology. The effort reoriented Navy programs toward payloads to accomplish naval missions in a joint operation, rather than focusing on platform replacement. As restrictions on Service acquisition programs increased,3 Kelso worked closely with the Secretary of the Navy to fully exploit authorities for procuring systems falling below the thresholds for Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) approval to gain experience with prototypes before committing to large scale production costing billions of dollars. Under the leadership of Owens and Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski, the Navy made significant progress in C4ISR systems needed for network centric warfare that were interoperable with other Services systems.4

Beginning the Revolution

In 1995, Chief of Naval Operations Jeremy (Mike) Boorda redirected his CNO Strategic Studies Group to generate innovative warfighting concepts that would revolutionize naval warfighting the way that the development of carrier air warfare did in World War II.

The first innovation SSG in 1995-1996 identified the promise of information technology, integrated propulsion systems, unmanned vehicles, and electromagnetic weapons (rail guns), among other things. They believed that the ability to fuse, process, understand, and disseminate huge volumes of data had the greatest potential to alter maritime operations. They laid out a progression from extant, to information-based, to networked, to enhancing cognition through networks of human minds employing artificial intelligence, robotics biotechnology, etc. to empower naval personnel to make faster, better decisions, for warfighting command and sustainment. For sustainment they imagined “real-time, remote monitoring systems interconnected with technicians, manufacturers, parts distributors, and transportation and delivery sources; dynamic business logic that enables decisions to be made and actions to be executed automatically, even autonomously; and a system in which sustainment is embedded in the operational connectivity architecture, becoming invisible to the operator except by negation.” Their force design proposed a netted system of numerous functionally distributed and physically dispersed sensors and weapons to provide a spectrum of capabilities and effects, scaled to the operational situation.5

Admiral Boorda passed away just as the SSG was preparing to brief him. After he became CNO, Admiral Jay Johnson decided to continue the SSG’s focus on innovation focus when he heard the SSG’s briefing.6 The next SSG in 1997 advocated many of these concepts in more depth, emphasized modularity, and added a revolutionary “Horizon” concept on how the Navy could man and operate its ships that in ways that would increase the operational tempo of the ships while changing sailors’ career paths in a manner that would provide more family stability and time at home.7 The following SSG worked with the Naval Surface Warfare Centers on designs for ships using IPS armed with rail guns that could sustain and tender large numbers of smaller manned and unmanned vessels for amphibious operations and sea control; among other enhancements.8 Subsequent SSGs extended such concepts, added new ones and enhanced designs for the future.9

Despite pressures on Navy budgets, OPNAV created program offices to pursue naval warfare innovations at a rate of about $100 million per year for each effort, though some programs required less.10

Building on the U.S. Army’s efforts to develop a rail gun for the M-1 tank, the Navy began heavy investment in prototyping rail guns in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. By 2005 prototypes had been installed in Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Since only warheads were required, magazines could hold three times as many projectiles as conventional rounds. The ability to shift power from propulsion to weapons inherent in IPS also stimulated more rapid advances in ship-borne lasers and directed energy weapons.

Rather than designing new airframes, the Navy automated flight controls to begin flying unmanned F/A-18 fighters and A-6 attack aircraft as part of air wings to learn what missions were appropriate and what the technology could support. This led the fleet rapidly discovering ways to employ the aircraft for dangerous and dull missions, reducing the load on newer air wings. Mixed manned-unmanned airwings began deploying in 2002. It also led to programs for automating aircraft in the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base boneyard to allow rapidly increasing the size of U.S. air forces in the event of war. Using lessons from existing air frames, the Navy began designing new unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs).

The Navy prototyped lighter than air craft for broad area surveillance; secure, anti-jam communications, and fleet resupply. These evolved to provide hangers and sustainment for unmanned air vehicles.

Figure 1: The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Tucson, AZ (Alamy stock photo/Used by permission)

Figure 2: Sea Shadow (IX-529), built 1984 (U.S. Navy photo 990318-N-0000N-001/Released)

Building on the success of the 1995 Slice Advanced Technology Demonstrator11 operated by two people using a computer with a feeble 286 processor and lessons from the stealthy Sea Shadow, the Navy began prototyping similar vessels of about 350 tons designed for rapidly reconfiguring using modular payloads of that could be for different missions including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine warfare, sea control and air-defense using guns, strike, and deception.12 These prototype vessels used IPS and permanent magnet motors for high speed in high sea states. Initial modules employed existing systems while the plug-and-play nature of the modules allowed rapid upgrades. By 2005 the Navy had a flotilla of this version of optionally-manned littoral combat ships forward stationed in Singapore, refining tactics and organizational procedures. By 2010 the Navy had built a prototype of the SSG’s stealthy UCAV assault ship with a squadron of UCAVs.

Figure 3: SLICE ACTD 1996 (about 100 tons). (Pacific Marine & Supply Co. photo)

Figure 4: UCAV Assault Ship concept in 1997

The Navy replaced the Marine’s existing Maritime Prepositioning Force and redesigned the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force, with a cost saving $17 billion over 35 years using a common hull form using an integrated propulsion system, electric drive, and electromagnetic/directed energy weapons in a logistics and expeditionary ship variants. The electric drive freed space for unmanned surface, air, and undersea vehicles to support both combat and logistics functions. The expeditionary ships were capable of sustaining operations for 30 days without resupply and large enough to configure loads for an operation, rather than having to go to a port and load so that equipment came off in the appropriate order, which was the extant practice. The logistics variant could accommodate a 400-ton vessel in its well-deck to serve as a tender for forward deployed flotillas. The force was designed to project power up to 400 nautical miles inland using a larger tilt-wing aircraft than the V-22, which could fly at 350 knots.

Command decision programs emphasized the use of algorithms to inform repeated decisions. Building on combined arms ASW tactics employing surface, air, and submarine forces that proved successful in the 1980s, the Navy developed an undersea cooperative engagement capability for the theater ASW commander, exploiting maps of the probability of a submarine being at a particular location in the theater. This included development of advanced deployable arrays that allowed the Navy to surveil new areas on short notice. Additionally, capabilities to surveil and deliver mines using undersea unmanned vehicles were enhanced to allow maintaining minefields in adversary ports and choke-points.

One of the biggest advancements was in fleet sustainment. Technologies and policies that industry and had applied provided a roadmap for changing the Navy’s maintenance philosophy. Netted small, smart, sensors; networks; and on-site fabrication enabled the development of a cognitive maintenance process. By 2010 watchstanders no longer manually logged data and neural networks predicted times to failure. Platform status could be monitored remotely. Detection of anomalies in operating parameters would trigger automatic action in accordance with business logic. Using data from computer aided design both provided tutorials for maintain equipment, and identified parts needed to conduct repairs; allowing automatically generating parts requests. Inventory control systems ordered replacement parts as they were used. Sharing this data across the fleet and the Navy made much of the manpower involved in supply redundant. Ship’s force was freed from supply duties to focus on fighting the ship. Providing the data to original equipment manufacturers allowed them to track failure rates and update designs for greater reliability. Additive manufacturing (3D printing) allowed deployed ships to make parts needed for rapid repairs and reduced costs for maintaining prototype equipment and vessels. Only a few years was required to return investments required to transition to sustainment and inventory practices used by industries such as Caterpillar, General Motors, and Walmart (and now Amazon). Sustainment practices allowed ships to remain forward deployed in high readiness for much longer periods. Advances in employing AI for sustainment contributed exploiting AI for weapons systems.

The Navy began experimenting with the Horizon concept which called for creating flotillas of ships with the majority forward deployed with departmental watch teams rotating forward to allow sailors more time at home in readiness centers where they could train and monitor the status of ships to which they would deploy. Sailors would spend 80 percent of their careers in operational billets, advancing in their rating from apprentice, to journeyman, to master as they progressed. Assigning sailors to extraneous shore billets to give them time at home was no longer required.13 Readiness centers were established originally for smaller classes of ships, and the concept was in place for Burke-class destroyers and incoming classes of surface combatants in 2008.14 The advantages to this operational approach included: (1) the number of deployment transits were substantially reduced; (2) gaps in naval forward presence coverage in any of the three major theaters was eliminated; (3) two of the three ready platforms remaining in CONUS were operationally “ready” platforms 100% of the time, and all three over 90% of the time.15 New non-intrusive ways of certifying the platforms and crews as “ready” for operations freed them from the yoke of the inspection intensive inter-deployment training cycle and joint task force workups. This allowed the Navy to move away from cyclic readiness and towards sustained readiness.

The U.S. Navy in 2019

Using extensive prototyping of small manned and unmanned vehicles, weapons, combat, and C4ISR systems enhanced by AI with human oversight and control, the Navy in 2019 had a diverse set of capabilities to deal with rapidly emerging security challenges and opportunities. Forward stationed and deployed flotillas with their tenders provided surface and undersea capabilities similar to aircraft flying from a carrier.16 The agility provided by this approach over past acquisition practices developed for the Cold War allowed the Navy to enhance budgets for those prototypes that proved successful while accelerating learning about how to integrate rapidly changing technology. The success of rail guns and directed energy weapons as standard armaments on dispersed forces flipped the offense-defense cost advantages for air and missile defense. Implementing the sustainment and readiness concepts removed large burdens from ship’s forces that allowed them to concentrate on warfighting rather than maintenance and administration.

The Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy in 2019

One downside was that the PLA Navy closely observed and copied the USN. Through industrial espionage and theft of intellectual property, the PLAN acquired USN designs as the systems were begin authorized for procurement. With process innovation, China was able to field many of these systems even more quickly than the U.S., resulting in greater challenges even than the rapid build-up of Chinese maritime forces and global operations over the past decade. This taught the U.S. to think through competitive strategies, considering more carefully the strategic effects of adversaries having similar capabilities, rather than blindly pursuing technological advantages.


Captain John T. Hanley, Jr., USNR (Ret.) began his career in nuclear submarines in 1972. He served with the CNO Strategic Studies Group for 17 years as an analyst and Program/Deputy Director. From there in 1998 he went on to serve as Special Assistant to Commander-in-Chief U.S. Forces Pacific, at the Institute for Defense Analyses, and in several senior positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense working on force transformation, acquisition concepts, and strategy. He received A.B. and M.S. degrees in Engineering Science from Dartmouth College and his Ph.D. in Operations Research and Management Sciences from Yale. He wishes that his Surface Warfare Officer son was benefiting from concepts proposed for naval warfare innovation decades ago. The opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not reflect the positions of the Department of Defense, the US Navy, or his institution.



1. As CNO, Admiral Tom Hayward established a Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College in 1981 with the SSG as its core. His aim was to turn captains of ships into captains of war by giving promising officers an experiences and challenges that they would experience as senior flag officers before being selected for Flag rank. He personally selected six Navy officers, who were joined by two Marines. The group succeeded in developing maritime strategy and subsequent CNOs continued Hayward’s initiative. Over 20% of the Navy officers assigned were promoted to Vice Admiral and over 10 percent were promoted to full Admiral before CNO Mike Boorda changed the mission of the group to revolutionary naval warfare innovation in 1995.

2. This decision, however, was subsequently reversed due to concerns over cost and schedule risk with DD-21 (Zumwalt Class) being the first large surface combatant with IPS. The Navy established the IPS office in 1995 vice 1989. (O’Rourke 2000).

3. The Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986 restricted Service acquisition authorities and created significant challenges for the Navy (Nemfakos, et al. 2010).

4. Owens and Cebrowski were assigned to the first SSG as Commanders and shared an office. Their concepts for networking naval, joint, and international forces to fight forward against the Soviets significantly influenced the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s and led to changes in fleet tactics and operations. Owens went on to serve as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Cebrowski as his J-6 continuing their efforts. Cebrowski later directed OSD’s Office of Force Transformation in the early 2000s.

5. (Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XV 1996). Imagine distributing the weapons systems on an Aegis cruiser across numerous geographically dispersed smaller vessels to cover more sea area while providing better mutual protection; elevating the phased-array radar to tens of thousands of feet using blimp-like aircraft; all networked to enhance cooperative engagement while providing a common operational picture covering a wide area.

6. Jay Johnson had served as an SSG fellow 1989-1990 and initially was unsure whether to return to the previous SSG model.

7. (Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group XVI 1997)

8. Most of the detailed descriptions below are statement from what the SSGs envisioned would happen.

9. The SSG focused solely on naval warfare innovation beginning in 1997, substantially changing the mission from making captains of war, until CNO John Richardson disestablished it in 2016.

10. 1997 was the nadir for Navy procurement budgets following the post-Cold War peace dividend. Focused on the Program of Record, OPNAV decided not to pursue SSG innovations.

11. Though OSD had programs for Advanced Technology Demonstrations (ATDs) to demonstrate technical feasibility and maturity to reduce technical risks, and Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrations (ACTDs) to gain understanding of the military utility before commencing acquisition, develop a concept of operations, and rapidly provide operational capability, acquisition reform beginning with the Packard Commission and Goldwater-Nichols and belief in computer simulation gutted the use of prototypes in system development.

12. The decision that the Littoral Combat Ship must self-deploy resulted in increasing the ship’s displacement by about an order of magnitude. Roughly ten of the smaller vessels could be purchased for each LCS. The missions in normal font are included in LCS modules.

13. Horizon sought to make 80% of Navy personnel available for deployment. In contrast, less than 50% of the Navy’s personnel were in deployable billets in 1996.

14. In 1997 the surface combatant 21 program which became the LCS and Zumwalt-class destroyers was scheduled for initial operational capability in 2008.

15. Based on a three to six-month depot availability once every five years.

16. Professor Wayne Hughes, Captain USN (Ret,) calls these a two-stage system.

Feature photo: Artist’s conception of DD-21: a low-signature and optimally-manned warship featuring railguns and an Integrated Power System (IPS). Public domain image.

Force Structure Perspectives Series Concludes on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

Last week, CIMSEC launched a series of articles and interviews on the new Battle Force 2045 fleet design unveiled by the Secretary of Defense. In this series, contributors shed light on why the Defense Secretary may have felt compelled to seize the fleet design process from the Navy, the tactical and technological trends that drove the fleet’s composition, and whether the new fleet is fiscally feasible.

Several themes emerged. The Navy’s prior shipbuilding plans and force structure assessments may have remained too wedded to existing platforms, and not moved out aggressively enough on fielding new ship types that would better reflect the evolving nature of high-end conflict. This inclination on the part of the Navy as well as other underlying assumptions may have caused the Secretary of Defense to seize the fleet design process and push the Navy toward a different outcome.

Whether this new fleet is affordable is highly dubious in the eyes of some. But whether a 500-ship fleet could be afforded is less relevant in the near term. What is more significant is that new ship types have been called for, and how the final number matters less than beginning to build sooner rather than later. But new ship types will require sufficient experimentation and margin for adaptation, and recent shipbuilding experiences with surface combatants has affected the skepticism of Congress. Whether this new fleet can be made real remains uncertain.

During the series, we received some reports of readers experiencing technical issues when accessing the articles and interviews. Please email us at if you would like to have the pieces sent to you as attachments.

Below are the articles and interviews, with excerpts. We thank these contributors for their excellent contributions.

Capt. Trip Barber (ret). on Building a New Fleet

“This level of change is institutionally very hard to accept and will never earn an internal consensus. It threatens community beliefs and disrupts the shipbuilding industrial base. However, multiple outside evaluations of the Navy’s fleet design over the preceding four years had said that the time had come for this level of change, and OSD finally stepped in to make it happen when the Navy did not move aggressively enough.”

Capt. Jeff Kline (ret.) on Bringing the Fleet Into the Robotics Age

“As the new fleet design is incrementally introduced, and the advantages and limitations of new technologies are better understood, tactics can be modified along with concepts to effectively employ them. The greatest risk, of course, is to the networks and communications that tie this fleet together. In a way, this transforms the Navy’s “capital ship” from the aircraft carrier to the fleet network, a natural outcome of distributed operations enabled by the Robotics Age.”

Capt. Sam Tangredi (ret.) on Shopping for Studies

“If the Navy itself has been debating these same issues, why did SECDEF ‘take away’ future fleet design from the Navy (as it has been described in the media and elsewhere) and commission his own study? I will play the cynic—but it is based on 30-plus years of being involved in DoD analytical studies. SECDEFs do these things when they already have an answer in mind, but existing studies don’t really justify their answer. SECDEFs need to intellectually justify their answers to Congress, hence they need a ‘study’ to support it.”

CDR Phil Pournelle (ret.) on Chasing Legacy Platforms

“This is unique in the fact that the Secretary of Defense did not defer to the Navy staff. The writing was on the wall several years ago when Congress demanded multiple perspectives on future fleet architectures, suggesting dissatisfaction with continuing to build the same fleet regardless of trends shaping the future combat environment. Further, I don’t think the Navy really addressed the National Defense Strategy’s four-layer construct of contact, blunt, surge, and homeland defense when they submitted their planned architecture. They appeared to have shoehorned in the same force design and not make the fundamental changes called for.”

Col. T.X. Hammes (ret.) on Experimenting for Adaptation

“…the concepts are not mature. Nor should we expect them to be. They are an initial attempt to respond to what the Secretary noted is a fundamental change in the character of warfare as it expands into new domains. The intellectual logic has been debated and gamed quite a bit, but the ultimate proof is in experimentation and adaption. A key attribute must be flexibility so that the concepts can quickly evolve as the Navy and Marine Corps experiment and learn.”

Capt. Robert Rubel (ret.) on OSD Seizing Fleet Design

“Ideally, in my view, this episode will break up the Navy’s fixation on the aforementioned force structure concepts and approaches, and it will adopt a new approach to fleet design that is freed from the strictures of machine-based campaign analysis based on canonical contingency scenarios. There has been a struggle for the last several decades within the Navy between the strategy shop and resource shop over this, with the resource shop always winning. I hope SECDEF’s intervention will alter that balance of power.”

A Decisive Flotilla: Assessing the Hudson Fleet Design,” by Capt. Robert Rubel (ret.)

“The bottom line is that the Hudson and presumably CAPE studies offer fleet designs that are potentially suitable, feasible, and acceptable, if and only if organizational adjustments accompany them. Presumably, both studies were based on a shipbuilding budget no greater than today’s. If not, their feasibility is compromised. It also likely matters how they are implemented, the dynamics of how the Navy gets from its current design to the recommended one while avoiding the perception by adversaries of opening or closing windows of opportunity for aggression.”

Congresswoman Elaine Luria on Getting Congress Involved

“…Congress needs to understand the requirements being proposed and why. Most members of Congress don’t understand specifically the needed mix of ships, aircraft, and missiles required to prevail in a conflict with China. Congressional buy-in will be critical as we determine funding levels for each acquisition program, maintenance, and readiness requirements.”

Dr. John T. Kuehn On Designing for the Long War

“Any expansion or change in fleet structure and size has to include the second and third order requirements for maintenance, trained personnel, logistics, and parts support. Designing around winning a short war as some have mentioned works against this. It is always better to plan for a long war, that way, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will not be caught short.”

The Navy Should Stop Talking About the Future and Start Building It,” by Frank Goertner

“What happened next highlights why strategy in today’s Navy is too fragile for hope. The admiral who signed the Future Fleet Design and Architecture for 2045 transferred within one week of its approval. The Office of Future Strategy lasted less than nine months beyond completion of the report. The CNO who sponsored it retired two years hence. And in the meantime, there were countless executive turnovers within the Navy staff directorates, program offices, and fleet commands on which its recommended reforms relied on for execution and support.”

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (July 10, 2018) The guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) transits the Pacific Ocean while participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Devin M. Langer/Released)

The Navy Should Stop Talking About the Future and Start Building It

Force Structure Perspectives Series

By Frank T. Goertner

Four years ago, the U.S. Navy began talking seriously about future fleet design. Directives were released, forums were held, studies were commissioned, roadmaps were constructed, and long-range plans were drafted – each of which called for innovation at scale and reform at speed. Six Navy Secretaries, five Defense Secretaries, four federal budgets, three elections, two Congresses, and one Chief of Naval Operations later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense finally added its voice with Battle Force 2045.

Now it is time to stop talking about the fleet’s future and start building it. This is why.

Words are Cheap 

Naval leaders have a way with words. Flag officers scrutinize them, commanders study them, selection boards interpret them, and staff officers labor over them. Hours of every Navy day are spent molding words into scrupulous emails, formulaic memos, transmittable orders, prosaic strategy documents, and immemorial PowerPoint slides. For better and worse, contemporary naval careers are about surfing words as much as making waves.

But as indispensable as they are to bureaucracy and stricture, most words are cheap, especially in the Pentagon. The shelf-life of a typical action memo or decision brief not required by a program of record or operational order is less than a year. With personnel tours rarely aligned to program requirements or project aims, it proves impossible for staff officer teams to aggregate, iterate, and advocate new ideas beyond the few overlapping months they have together.

The predominance of email and PowerPoint as standard communication mediums only makes matters worse. Once sent or briefed, the words they contain struggle to hold value amid torrents of other communications each day. Emails become guarded or siloed in personal inboxes. Slides, if saved, are uninterpretable once divorced from the briefer. And the obsession with brevity cultivated by both mediums dissuades the critical, memorable, and lengthy learning-based discourse rich topics deserve. 

On some level, the Pentagon knows this, and so does the Navy. The antidote is often thought to be strategy. It is not. 

Strategy is Fragile

When I reported to the Pentagon in 2016 for my final Navy orders, it was to a newly created “Office of Future Strategy.” Established by then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson as part of his Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority, we were a small team tasked with identifying vectors and markers to move the Navy from words to action on future fleet design. The result was an internal report, Future Fleet Design and Architecture for 2045, that set strategic design priorities and architectural attributes for a future fleet that closely match those endorsed by Defense Secretary Esper in recent weeks. That report was published three years ago.

What happened next highlights why strategy in today’s Navy is too fragile for hope. The admiral who signed the Future Fleet Design and Architecture for 2045 transferred within one week of its approval. The Office of Future Strategy lasted less than nine months beyond completion of the report. The CNO who sponsored it retired two years hence. And in the meantime, there were countless executive turnovers within the Navy staff directorates, program offices, and fleet commands on which its recommended reforms relied for execution and support.

Most of this was expected. Even in calm seas, the sprint of Navy flag officers through posts at the Pentagon, alongside the persistent tinker of senior Navy executives within service staff structures, can capsize a Navy strategy. What was unexpected was how rough the seas would become.

Adrift, roiled, crippled, struggling, unclear: each is a published descriptor of America’s naval leadership in the past three years of continuous turnover among appointed and acting Secretaries of Defense and Secretaries of the Navy, questionable fleet fires and firings, on-again off-again Navy approaches to education reform, Pentagon wrangling over naval force structure assessments, and unplanned changes in CNO accession.

It was a perfect storm to sink a fragile future fleet design. That any remnants of it survived is a testament to one thing: the future is here.

Building is Everything          

When words are cheap, strategy fragile, and the future now underway, there is only one path to enduring impact. The Navy needs to stop talking, writing, and strategizing for the future. It needs to start building it now, and it needs to build to last.

Whether the goal is 355 ships or 500 ships by 2045, those tasked to pursue it need to acknowledge that between today and mission completion stand 25 federal budgets, a dozen new Congresses, up to seven different Commanders-in-Chief, at least a half dozen CNOs, and a full generation of naval officer careers. What will it take to build a fleet to ply those waters?

First, the Navy needs to build a new Navy Staff structure (OPNAV) that biases the future over the present. This will no doubt incur risk to current operations, impact readiness, and be decried by advocates for fleet platforms that have served our nation well for decades. But a future fleet cannot be cast, shaped, and hardened from a naval staff structure built to focus on the present. The Navy needs requirements directorates, programs of record, and assessment directives aligned to future fleet goals rather than current fleet demands.

This can take several forms. OPNAV N8 and N9 can be rebuilt around future fleet mission-sets, cross-community force packages, integrated kill-chains, or networked decision loops. Which vector is chosen matters less than that it shatters stove-pipes and breaks the horizon.

Second, the Navy needs to build learning momentum. The standup of a new 3-star OPNAV N7 Directorate dedicated to warfighting concept development and education, along with the assignment of a former fleet commander to its helm, was a step in the right direction. VADM Franchetti’s nomination to move jobs less than two months after reporting was not helpful, however. Nor is the failure to replace the Navy’s Chief Learning Officer or mirror the Army Futures Command’s collaborative approach toward capability innovation that goes beyond strictly military sources of thinking. If the Navy is serious about growing into its future fleet, it needs to build leaders with tenure and partners to prove it, and staff structures whose missions can withstand rapid leadership turnover.

Third, the Navy needs to build a maritime manufacturing base for the future fleet. It is always tempting to assume that the U.S. industrial base is up to any task. But a plan to nearly double the number of hulls in the U.S. fleet and boost nuclear submarine construction by a third is no easy feat for a shipbuilding industry that has been in steady decline for several decades. There may be some solace that as ships turn autonomous, and thereby smaller, the number of private shipyards able to build and service them will expand. Yet there is less solace in the fact that autonomous ships like Sea Hunter have yet to be fielded beyond an experimental capacity, or built at scale for the weaponry needed in contested seas. There remains much to be studied on both sides of the public-private relationships that fuel U.S. sea power, and the only way to learn fast is to build and experiment fast.

Fourth, the Navy needs to build interoperability with future allied navies. Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, SM-3 missiles, AEGIS, MK 46/48 torpedoes, F/A-18 jets, H-60 helicopters – each is among the most enduring and cost-effective fleet platforms of recent decades. These platforms have also been popular acquisitions by U.S. allies as assurance that freedom of the seas and defense of our nations is a joint venture. This is no coincidence, as much of the U.S. Navy’s success in the Cold War and since has derived from the degree to which foreign navies were attracted to its standards. America’s is not the only allied Navy building up in NATO or sizing up future fleets in the Pacific. Combined, these forces already have over 500 blue water hulls. By 2045, they could produce over 1,000. But across international borders, tactical and technological futures should converge by design more than by chance.

Finally, the Navy needs to build civic enthusiasm for its mission and future. A 40 percent boost to the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget is an audacious goal. The projected $27 billion shipbuilding budget request Defense Secretary Esper hinted at for 2022 is more than 40 percent what the executive branch requested for spending on education next year. That is a tall order in any year, but a towering one in a government struggling to redesign schools and reskill workforces for the digital and pandemic disruptions of our age.

As gratifying as it is to see defense leaders embrace the future fleet and the resourcing it requires, the stakeholders that really matter are the American taxpayers, voters, and representatives who must fund it. That will take a concerted effort to engage them as beneficiaries of its outcomes and missions. It will take educating and including their representatives on decisions about not just what is needed to build the fleet, but how and where it will be used and why. It may even take a bipartisan U.S. Maritime Commission, akin to the one launched in 1936, to tend to the public will of a maritime nation in distress.

All of this is to say that it is time for the Navy to stop relegating the future to words. Building the fleet of 2045 needs to become a top priority for 2020. There are not another three years, or even three months, to lose.

Frank T. Goertner, a retired U.S. Navy commander, is director for military/veteran affairs and national security programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. His final uniformed contribution to the Navy was as lead author of a 2017 report on Future Fleet Design and Architecture for 2045. The opinions expressed here are his alone.

Featured Image: NORTH SEA (Sept. 28, 2020) U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Chris Streicher with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211, launches from the deck of the British Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) armed with a Gun Pod Unit (GPU) – 9/A, at sea, September 28, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner)