Pentagon Chief Trims U.S. Navy Fleet Expectations

 - May 21, 2010, 8:15 AM
Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates chose the Navy League convention to spell out some hard truths about future funding. After paying tribute to the thousands of sailors and marines deployed on combat operations in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates noted that the Navy has been the most vocal of the U.S. armed services in protecting its force size.

Yet with 11 aircraft carriers, 10 large amphibious ships, 57 attack submarines and 79 other Aegis-equipped warships, the U.S. battle fleet “exceeds, by one recent estimate, at least the next 13 navies combined, of which 11 are our allies or partners,” Gates said.

The Pentagon chief then warned of asymmetric threats to U.S. seapower, notably from anti-ship and ballistic missiles that are now in the Iranian inventory. He called for a shift in investment toward long-range unmanned aircraft and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; new sea-based missile defenses; multi-role submarine missions; and littoral capabilities that match the tasks.

“You don't need need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates,” Gates noted. His subsequent comments about  “spiraling costs” suggested that the future U.S. shipbuilding program faces significant cuts, especially to “$3 to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines and $11 billion carriers.”