SECNAV Braithwaite Calls for Light Carrier, ‘Joint Strike Frigate’; Sounds Alarm Over Chinese Naval Expansion
Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite made a full-throated call for U.S. naval expansion, citing the growing Chinese Navy as the prime driver of the need for a larger fleet. He said that while the U.S. was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Beijing was focused on quietly building its influence with an emphasis on naval forces.
“We then got caught in a war in the Middle East and that took our attention. We took our eyes off the ball, especially in the Navy,” Braithwaite said, speaking at an event at the U.S. Navy Memorial SITREP speaker series.
He offered some additional details on the Pentagon’s Battle Force 2045 plan for the Navy’s future fleet beyond what Defense Secretary Mark Esper sketched out earlier this month. The plan, still on hold by the Office of Management and Budget, calls for a fleet of 500 ships that will include building up to 70 to 80 nuclear attack submarines and anywhere from eight to 11 aircraft carriers.
Braithwaite said that the Navy was set to build additional Constellation-class guided-missile frigates (FFG-62) beyond the 20 the service is slated to purchase.
“We’re looking to build 60 to 70 small surface combatants,” he said. “These are highly capable, sophisticated weapons platforms, projecting sea power around the globe.”
The last fleet plan in 2016 called for a force of about 50 small surface combatants. Braithwaite also suggested the Navy could use the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter model to export the frigate design abroad. Additionally, he suggested creating up to six light aircraft carriers that could be used as a platform for unmanned aircraft.
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Navy Issues Revisions to Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) Deployment Scheme
The Navy fleets signed out a revision to the Optimized Fleet Response Plan Instruction, the first such update since OFRP was introduced in 2014. U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Europe released a 12-star-signed revision to the plan on Oct. 20, which incorporates lessons learned from the past six years and stems from a pair of Navy and Pentagon reviews of OFRP conducted earlier this year.
The update “emphasizes Fleet-wide readiness output over single unit or group operational availability and cycle length,” according to Fleet Forces Command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Rob Myers, calling that “a specific lesson learned from 2020 OFRP assessments.”
“The product of OFRP is units ready for employment, on time and to standard. OFRP values aggregated output efficiency and effectiveness, over individual unit or group,” he continued, saying the update emphasizes that OFRP – a notional 36-month readiness-generation plan that outlines maintenance, training, deployment and sustainment operations – is not a firm schedule but rather a construct for force generation that integrates several other processes across the Navy.
Pentagon Transfers $2.6B Shipbuilding Funds for Columbia-Class Subs
Ahead of an anticipated contract modification for the first Columbia-class submarine, the Pentagon comptroller last week approved $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2021 shipbuilding dollars to be moved to the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund. Defense Department officials this past year sought and received a waiver from lawmakers to award the FY-21 funding despite the federal government remaining under a continuing resolution. The reprogramming action does not change the purpose of the funds, but is a necessary step under federal law for the Pentagon to complete prior to awarding the contract modification to Electric Boat.