Constrained by budgetary limitations, the U.S. Navy can afford either a new fighter, a new submarine, or a new destroyer, but not all three, according to a recent memo from the current acting secretary of the Navy, Thomas W. Harker.
In the memo, dated June 4th, Harker encouraged the Navy to prioritize one of the three platforms for investment.
Perhaps the most important part of the document explains that “the Navy cannot afford to simultaneously develop the next generation of air, surface, and subsurface platforms and must prioritize these programs balancing the cost of developing next-generation capabilities against maintaining current capabilities.” Furthermore, “as part of the POM23 budget, the Navy should prioritize one of the following capabilities and re-phase the other two after an assessment of operational, financial, and technical risk.”
What to Choose?
The highly-anticipated Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter is the Navy’s successor platform for their aging F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Though the Navy’s Super Hornets are not particularly old airframes, they are not considered stealthy aircraft despite measures taken to reduce their radar cross-section, whereas the NGAD would be a stealthy 6th generation airframe.
The SSN(X) submarine program would replace the Navy’s Virginia-class submarines, currently the Navy’s largest and in many respects most advanced submarine design to date. The Virginia-class is quite young in submarine terms: the Navy commissioned the oldest of the class in 2004, with over a dozen new hulls currently under construction or on order. Like the Virginias it would replace, the SSN(X) would remain a multi-mission platform, although the new class would place an emphasis on anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare thanks to advances in underwater drones.
The Guided-Missile Destroyer DDG(X) program would replace the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers as well as their Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers with an advanced, highly electrified ship. The proposed DDG(X) would reportedly borrow elements of the Zumwalt-class’ electric propulsion system and would also incorporate the Navy’s existing Aegis combat system. The dependence on electrical power suggests that the new class could incorporate any one of the many laser weapons — or a more advanced derivative thereof — the Navy has pioneered in recent years.
In addition to choosing just one new platform, the acting secretary Harker offered further guidance for the Navy by pushing to cut funding for the Navy’s Sea-Launched Cruise Missile, a cruise missile with nuclear payload. Harker also encouraged the Navy to scour their other programs for any possible financial savings.
The Navy’s budgetary resources have “essentially remained constant since FY18 in real terms while the Navy’s ship count has increased,” the memo reads. “Prioritization of programs of leadership interest will best ensure alignment with the Secretary of Defense’s guidance and deliver a force aligned with the will of the American people.”
So while the Navy has several very promising projects in the pipeline, they may be forced to pick just one.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.