Since the end of the Cold War, America's defense strategy has focused on maintaining the peace instead of waging a war with near-peer competitors. But, according to what Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson wrote in A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority Version 2.0, issued in December of last year, the United States is once again in the middle of a great power competition, where "China and Russia are deploying all elements of their national power to achieve their global ambitions."
"It has been decades since we last competed for sea control, sea lines of communication, access to world markets, and diplomatic partnerships. Much has changed since we last competed," Richardson said. "We will adapt to this reality and respond with urgency."
Richardson calls for maturing the Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept and key supporting concepts, which means having more capability in more places at any given time, and to "posture logistics capability ashore and at sea in ways that allow the fleet to operate globally, at a pace that can be sustained over time." That means improving the Navy and Marine Corps ability and resilience to refuel, rearm, resupply, and repair.
A recent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) study, Sustaining the Fight: Resilient Maritime Logistics for a New Era, has documented the need to expand and improve the current and programmed defense maritime logistics force of the United States, which the study's authors said "is inadequate to support the current US National Defense Strategy and major military operations against China or Russia."
America's abilities to sustain its deployed naval forces is second to none. In 2019, however, the CSBA report said that there are numerous indications that this area of US competitive advantage now threatens to become a major weakness. "Adversaries of the United States--the People's Republic of China and the Russian Federation, in particular--have developed the means to degrade, deceive, and exploit the US logistics architecture, with cascading effects on US combat forces. Moreover, decades of cuts to logistics capability, capacity, and posture have resulted in a relatively small and brittle US logistics force that at times chose and at times was forced to prioritize peacetime efficiency over wartime effectiveness and resiliency against capable adversaries."
The study looked at major programs and investments needed to retain or restore America's competitive edge in logistics and force sustainment, including a number of recommendations that deal with large vessels, which will be needed to supply the US and partner nations at sea and ashore. The Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan, and its goal of growing to 355 ships, means it will need more support ships. The plan calls for more combat ships, but proportionally, the study concluded, there will be a reduction in support ships overall. The military expects to "fight in a more effective, distribured, and sustained manner, while supporting Joint Force power projection," the authors said, which means more and varied platforms must be available to support the distributed force where needed.
"An unsupported force may quickly become a defeated one," the report said.
One platform in particular--the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF)--has shown promise in closing gaps and delivering new capabilities to...