The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that the Navy has stated in its latest Force Structure Assessment that it needs a larger force – setting an ideal goal of 355 ships, an increase from the 308 requested in the 2014 update. Currently, the Navy has 273 ships that are deployable.
Two carriers in the South China Sea. | US Navy photo
Why does the Navy need all those ships? Here's a list:
China is modernizing and getting aggressive
China's Houbei-class (Type 022) fast-attack craft. | Congressional Research Service
The theft of a U.S. Navy unmanned underwater vehicle is just the latest in a series of incidents where China has been crossing the line. There have been buzzing incidents in the South China Sea that have gotten very close to Navy electronic surveillance and maritime patrol aircraft. They also have built unsinkable aircraft carriers on some islands in the maritime hot spot. USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) carried out a stealth freedom of navigation exercise earlier this year without incident, but with the buzzing incidents, the next one could get rough.
With the South China Sea becoming a potential free-for-all, the Navy may want more ships.
Russia is modernizing and getting aggressive
Concept photo of Russian Projekt 20386 littoral combat ship. (Photo from Thai Military and Region blog)
Maybe it's the way they snatched Crimea, or their actions in Syria and the Ukraine, but it is obvious that Russia is also acting up in a manner that doesn't bode well for American allies in Europe.
Iran may need a smackdown
Iran has threatened Navy aircraft, harassed U.S. Navy vessels, and is developing a knockoff of the S-300. It is also a major sponsor of terrorism, is still pursuing nuclear weapons, and is buying weapons from Russia.
While ISIS is one threat, Iran is lurking as well.
The Littoral Combat Ship needs work
Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) patrols the Pacific Ocean during flight operations in the 7th Fleet area of operation. Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineers successfully completed the restrained firing test of the Longbow Hellfire missile for the Littoral Combat Ship Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, the Navy announced on Oct. 6, 2016. "This critical test concludes another vital step in a series of efforts that will lead to the fielding of this tremendous capability to LCS and to the Fleet," said Capt. Ted Zobel, program manager for the LCS Mission Module Program. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer Second Class Michaela Garrison/Released)
Let's face it, if we were looking for a new Coast Guard cutter, the littoral combat ship would have been fine. But the Navy needs smaller combatants because there will be a need to handle some of the dirty jobs, like mine warfare.
But with engine problems, the littoral combat ship is having trouble getting its sea legs, if you will. The Navy may well need to look at buying some other ships to buy time to figure out how to fix the technical problems, maybe accessorize it a little, and to figure out what to do with these ships.