Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite has called on the service to build up to six light aircraft carriers, which would increase the number of aircraft carriers in the fleet in a cost-effective way.
While speaking at a U.S. Navy Memorial event, Braithwaite proposed equipping the carriers with uncrewed aerial vehicles and sending them “where the threat is,” particularly against Russian submarines.
He said that while the U.S. was fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Beijing was focused on quietly building its influence with an emphasis on naval forces.
“We then got caught in a war in the Middle East and that took our attention. We took our eyes off the ball, especially in the Navy,” Braithwaite said, speaking at an event at the U.S. Navy Memorial SITREP speaker series.
“We moved into littoral warfare looking for a role for the United States Navy and we forgot about our commitments in deep water and so we’re behind and we’ve got to catch up and we’ve got to catch up fast.”
He offered some additional details on the Pentagon’s Battle Force 2045 plan for the Navy’s future fleet beyond what Defense Secretary Mark Esper sketched out earlier this month. The plan, still on hold by the Office of Management and Budget, calls for a fleet of 500 ships that will include building up to 70 to 80 nuclear attack submarines and anywhere from eight to 11 aircraft carriers.
Additionally, he suggested creating up to six light aircraft carriers that could be used as a platform for unmanned aircraft.
The Navy currently fields a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers: 10 Nimitz-class flat tops, and one of the new Gerald R. Ford-class. The USS Ford cost a whopping $13 billion to produce and is home to roughly 5,000 sailors who man the ship and operate the embarked air wing.
In terms of the ultimate cost of the additional ships, Braithwaite said he had found $48 billion in the Navy budget as an extension of the so-called Navy night court savings drive mounted by former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly. Modly set out with the goal to find $40 billion over five years.