US Battle Force: A Fleet of 500 Naval Ships by 2045

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The US Bataan returns to its homeport at Norfolk, Virginia.
‘Battle Force 2045’ calls for the U.S. Navy to have a fleet of 500 unmanned and manned ships by the year 2045. (Image: Official U.S. Navy Page via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Mark Esper, U.S. Defense Secretary, recently announced the country’s naval fleet plans. Dubbed “Battle Force 2045,” Esper revealed that the U.S. Navy might potentially have a fleet of 500 unmanned and manned ships by the year 2045. By 2035, the country could have 355 traditional battle force ships. The plan will apparently align with the National Defense Strategy that focuses on future-readiness rather than current operations. Esper remarked that the naval fleet should be prepared for a sophisticated war against China.

US battle force

According to the plan, the navy’s attack submarine fleet will be increased to around 70 or 80. The plan also calls for refueling the nuclear reactors of at least seven Los Angeles-class submarines (SSNs), up from the five or six previously announced. Significant investments may be made in the SSN (X) future submarine program.

With regard to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Esper believes that America will need anywhere from 8 to 11 of them to maintain a global presence and the ability to carry out high-end conflict. In addition, six light carriers will also be needed to complement the activities of the nuclear-powered carriers.

Around 140 to 240 unmanned and optionally manned ships may be added to the fleet. These ships will sail on the surface as well as under the sea, conducting missions like surveillance, missile strikes, laying mines, and so on. Esper pointed out that an unmanned surface vehicle being developed by the U.S. recently completed operations with the USS Russell, indicating that such technology is actually viable. There would also be up to 70 smaller vessels that would ensure that larger ships can be free to do more complex tasks.

Sailors retrieve an unmanned underwater vehicle during a transit through the Northern Mariana Islands.
Unmanned underwater vehicles can be used for laying mines and carrying out other operations. (Image: Official U.S. Navy Page via flickr CC BY 2.0 )

Esper notes that logistics capacity will play a key role in distributed maritime operations. To fulfill such needs, up to 90 combat ships might be required. In addition, the U.S. Navy would need a fleet of unmanned aircraft to serve as fighters, early warning systems, etc.

The defense secretary pointed out that the Marine Corps is currently in the process of implementing the force structure plan due to which there is a need for around 50 to 60 additional amphibious warfare ships. Esper admitted that realizing the Battle Force 2045 plan in the long term will not be a simple affair. Challenges like budget uncertainties, industrial capacity, and so on will have to be overcome to fulfill the plan.

UK threatened

China’s growing naval prowess is causing alarm in the UK as well. Admiral Tony Radakin, head of the Royal Navy, recently stated that Beijing could soon be a strategic threat to Britain since its naval force can utilize a newly opened route via the Arctic to reach British waters.

“Climate change is a concern for all of us, but it is opening up new maritime trade routes across the top of the world, halving the transit time between Europe and Asia. And we sit at the gateway to those routes… But when China sails its growing navy into the Atlantic, which way will it come — the long route or the short?” Radakin said in a speech, as reported by The Guardian.

A team of U.S. navy scientists aboard a ship studying glacial ice melt.
New maritime routes have opened up across the top of the world allowing a faster transit time between Europe and Asia. (Image: flickr / CC0 1.0)

The Northern Route, which was once icebound, is now sailable during the period of August to October. Ships can pass through the route without the use of an icebreaker. The route can save up to 12 days of sailing time when compared to the traditional route that passed through Singapore and the Suez Canal. Some experts of the British navy fear that China will work with Russia to exploit this passage for trade and military purposes.

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