Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Naval Presence Shifts Towards 2020

These slides from OPNAV were passed around several months ago as an example of the pivot to Asia. Some have identified these slides as representative of the slides presented at a recent CNO press conference. The first slide begins with the expected Naval Presence of 2013.

This is basically today. Note the gold ships are the sustained, forward deployed ships and the blue ships are the rotational CONUS forces. Noteworthy how the SSGNs are counted as steady state, forward deployed operational assets.

It continues with a slide of Naval Presence of 2017.

This is where the map starts getting interesting.

South America
Note that the Navy intends to move 10 PCs, many of which are currently in the Middle East, to the South American theater in support of SOUTHCOM by 2017. I am interested to see how that works with 1 amphibious ship and no combat logistics. In my opinion there looks to be a real opportunity for Navy/Coast Guard cooperation in that theater that is not getting a close enough look, for example, why wouldn't an AFSB for MSO and logistics not be very effective in that region? Everything has short legs, and having a place to move spare parts around at sea isn't a bad thing. It also doesn't hurt to have a UAV pad in the middle of the water. Just saying... that environment isn't likely to get better anytime soon, and has a real potential to get much worse - particularly if we start seeing more legit submarines instead of semi-submersables. It is worth noting the CG/DDG/FFGs in SOUTHCOM are replaced by 10 PCs and 2 JHSVs, not Littoral Combat Ships.

Rota is now a BMD base, and sailors will be lining up for duty on those ships. It is still very much unclear what ships the US Navy intends to station there. If it is me, I send 4 DDG Flight Is with BMD so I don't have to send and pay for RW (sorry guys!). Worth noting the full time amphibious ship is now augmented by 2 JHSVs assigned to Africa, which have replaced two large surface combatants. These ships almost certainly represent engagement work the Marine Corps is working on today towards tailored Enhanced Rifle Companies and other tailored Blue/Green assets for Partnership Station type of activity. What I find noteworthy, and useful, is that these platforms are retaining their RW capabilities, and all three ships are well suited for SOF activities if tasking is necessary. These are very flexible forces, but it means UAVs will be the only assured option to provide direct fires in contingency. That's OK, but I still think putting VLS in the San Antonio class amphibious ships for long range cruise missile capability remains an important omission in the modern force, and something the Navy needs to reconsider as an important capability as the large surface combatants move away from theaters that are traditional hotspots for SOF operations.

Middle East
Worth noting the 12 PC/MCMs has become 4 LCS, 4 MCM, and 2 JHSV. Note that the SSGN and 2 CG/DDGs that had been operating down in Africa in 2013 are moved up to the Persian Gulf region by 2017, basically suggesting an assumption that all naval activities off Africa today can be replaced in whole by two JHSVs. That is a remarkable assumption that I have a hard time believing has any merit whatsoever.

Look closely and note that by 2017 the great pivot to Asia strategy being touted by Secretary Panetta will be the massive increase in naval forces of - four Littoral Combat Ships and two Joint High Speed Vessels. It is one thing to try not to provoke China into an arms race, but when this is the massive maritime shift towards the Pacific touted at the political level as national defense strategy, one has to wonder what our allies are truly thinking about our empty words policy. I'll also make a brief point - the reason I keep jabbing the Army with a stick and pointing to the Pacific is because it is plainly obvious the Navy is talking a big game but isn't doing anything significant there, and the force is not growing in the future, so the US Army needs to expect as an opening assumption that they will be left completely ineffective as a fighting force in the Pacific if they are dependent upon the US Navy, because the US Army will never get where they need to be unless the Army can figure out a way to make the islands of the Pacific a network of forward operating bases by which the Navy has no responsibility for their limited forces to defend, because every ship defending an island is one less ship to move the Army into the combat zone by force.

General Notes
The requirement appears to be around 1200 VLS in the Middle East in 2017, and 1500 VLS in the Pacific in 2020. Also, in my opinion, with the exception of SOUTHCOM this map looks to me what a "strategy of holding the line" looks like. You know what else bothers me about this map? It is a reminder that in 2017 US forces are basically organized in traditional heavy task forces like CSGs and ARGs, and with the exception of SSGNs and the 10 PCs in SOUTHCOM, nothing about this map sticks out as having a capability that is inherently disruptive for a bad actor in any specific area. LCS and JHSVs will be useful for their limited purposes, which is ISR and engagement respectively, but the US Navy has a shortage of assets that stand out as disruptive - punching politically and diplomatically above their weight.

It conclude with a slide of Naval Presence in 2020.

The pivot to the Pacific has completed, and this major pivot ends up being 4 Littoral Combat Ships, 3 amphibious ships, and 2 Joint High Speed Vessels. I am very unclear how the politics of the pivot to Asia somehow became a public diplomacy centered around the maritime domain with the US Navy doesn't even move a single major surface combatant or submarine to the Pacific as part of this touted pivot.

Europe/Africa/South America
Note that in all three places the major change the primary feature is the addition of a pair of Littoral Combat Ships. What I find very interesting is that for both Africa and South America the pair of Littoral Combat Ships is replacing the presence previously filled by an amphibious ship. This is the first document I have seen from OPNAV (that I can publish anyway) that supports the arguments I have made on this blog regarding how the LCS is more of an amphibious ship capability than a surface combatant capability it is usually generally referred to as. While that is an interesting side note, I'm not convinced it means anything other than how the numbers fit together in PPT.

General Notes
Note that the suggested plan according to this PPT is for 8 LCS in the Persian Gulf before more than 4 are in the Pacific, indeed 18 Littoral Combat Ships are specifically accounted for on this graphic, but only 4 in the Pacific. Obviously this is a moment in time look at what the Navy is thinking, but they are interesting moments and time, and interesting thoughts about future force dispersion.

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