12 aircraft carriers, 50 frigates: the US Navy returns to its fundamentals

Say that US Navy planning has been chaotic over the past 30 years would be an understatement. Between calamitous and chronically overcost programs such as the Zumwalt destroyers, the Littoral Combat Ship corvettes, or the Seawolf submarines, significant technical difficulties such as for the Ford-class aircraft carriers, and objectives marked by political considerations and economic, and not by operational needs, the prospects and options of the world's leading naval force have been irremediably darkened, while at the same time, the naval powers of its main competitors such as Russia and especially China, have developed with rigor and emphasis. As a foreseeable consequence of this degraded situation, attempts to implement a new naval strategy have been, in recent years, to say the least confused, even contradictory, leading to a worsening of the situation for lack of an effective strategy.

Last reversal in date, the US Navy retreated, two weeks ago, under the blows of the battering of the Congress, its timetable for the entry into service of its autonomous ships, in order to begin the construction of this fleet considered essential to contain Chinese naval power, only once all the new technologies necessary have been perfectly mastered and reliable, thus avoiding repeating the errors made with the Zumwalt and LCS programs. However, the US Navy remained unable to produce a naval construction strategy responding to Chinese and Russian challenges in recent months. It seems that, while the strategy itself will not be presented until next year, its broad outlines have actually been arbitrated by the General Staff of the US Navy, and its Chief of Staff, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Michael Gilday.

The 3 Zumwalt-class destroyers will have cost the price of 25 Constellation-class frigates, for an operational capacity that is still debatable.

On the occasion of the West 2022 conference in San Diego, the NOC has indeed presented the future format of the US Navy. This will be organized around 12 aircraft carriers, 9 assault helicopter carriers, 20 to 30 smaller assault ships, as well as 60 destroyers and 50 frigates for the high seas fleet. The submarine fleet will be made up of 12 Columbia-class SSBNs for the deterrence mission, and above all 70 nuclear attack submarines, i.e. the largest fleet of this type never built. In total, in 2045, the US Navy is aiming for a format of 500 ships, including 150 autonomous ships, in accordance to the plans presented two years ago by Mark Esper.

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