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The U.S. Navy will keep its aircraft carrier fleet at the now-magical number, 11, while other ships are being slipped or cut over the next five years — even those the Pentagon says it needs and wants to protect — according to a preview of the upcoming fiscal 2013 budget request detailed Jan. 26 by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The plan scuttles months-long speculation that the Pentagon would delay or cancel some carrier programs and reduce the fleet size.
A secure and upgraded 11-carrier fleet — and accompanying big-deck amphibious ships — is needed to meet the Obama administration’s new strategic guidance for “confronting aggression” and projecting power, Panetta says.
With the 2013 request, the Pentagon also aims to increase cruise-missile capacity for future Virginia-class submarines, design a conventional and prompt-strike option for subs, and upgrade ship-borne radars.
Navy officials and defense analysts have been calling for some time to augment the firepower of the Virginia-class subs. At the same, though, the Pentagon plans to slip one of the Virginias beyond the five-year procurement time frame.
The Defense Department also wants to delay the new Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine class replacement, SSBN(X), by two years, a move the Pentagon says can be made “without undermining our partnership with the U.K.”
In addition, the Pentagon wants to slip one large-deck LHA amphibious ship by one year, reduce Joint High Speed Vessels by eight ships over the next five years and cut the planned Littoral Combat Ship buy by two ships over that same time.
Planned for early retirements are six cruisers that do not have ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability and a seventh cruiser that has BMD upgrades but would be too costly to repair.
Two smaller amphibious ships are slated for early retirement as well, and their replacements would be slipped outside the five-year procurement plan.
The Pentagon says it also plans to reduce spending and accept “some risk in deployable regional missile defense” and “increase reliance on allies and partners in the future.”
This suggests the Navy may consider throttling back on some of its Aegis-equipped vessel plans and start investing in more Aegis Ashore platforms.