By Fang Xiaozhi
A fire broke out on a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7) , which is under maintenance, leaving 11 sailors with minor injuries, according to reports from the website of the US Naval Institute on November 15. Previously, two US naval ships caught fire during maintenance at the dockyard.
In recent years, the US Navy has made a high-profile declaration to move toward a fleet of 355 ships while facing the reality of various accidents. The fatal collision of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) caused a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars. Various electrical problems occurring during the maintenance of the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) aircraft carrier have failed to let the aircraft carrier be deployed as scheduled. The newly developed Ford aircraft carrier cannot carry the F-35C fighter jets. The US Navy frequently encounters problems in real world.
Deeply-rooted maritime hegemonic thinking
The US has been the world’s maritime hegemony since the end of World War II. With its strong military power, the US has triumphantly promoted its maritime hegemony and challenged the sovereignty and interests of other countries. At the same time, the US also offered various theories and laws, including the more frequent so-called “freedom of navigation” for itself to seek maritime hegemony.
Trump’s “America First” policy gives US military greater freedom of movement. In recent years, the US Navy has been expanding its fleet size, focusing on developing and deploying large and medium-sized unmanned surface ships, and prioritizing the development of frontier forces, in an attempt to improve navigation freedom and rapid response capability in international waters.
In addition, it also vigorously created new combat concepts. For example, the concept of “Distributed Killing”, which is, small surface warship formations with high performance and combat capability serve as the main force for frontier deterrent and interfering operations, and traditional aircraft carrier combat fleet moves to where anti-ship ballistic missiles cannot reach, providing airborne reconnaissance warning and electronic warfare support for frontier formations. The “Distributed Killing” concept aims to enhance battlefield survival, deep penetration and effective strike capabilities.
Many urgent challenges remain to be solved
The first challenge is the serious contradiction between the large-scope military operations and fleet power shortage. Due to the excessive intervention in international affairs and the broad range of military operations, the US needs to carry out heavy operations and combat preparation tasks in the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea. However, according to recent statistics of the US military, more than one-third of the ships in the US homeland are currently under maintenance, and the remaining ships often encounter problems. This has seriously affected the effective operation of the US Navy’s combat missions. For example, three of the six aircraft carriers deployed by the US Navy on the East Coast are currently at the shipyard in different maintenance states. Among them, the Washington aircraft carrier is undergoing maintenance and overhaul work at the Newport News Shipbuilding, and the progress is slow; the maintenance work of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier has been extended from 10 to 28 months due to the backlog of Norfolk Naval Shipyard. The latest aircraft carrier Ford has also been unable to form combat power due to constant problems. All of these resulted the “empty window period” in the US Navy’s global deployment.
At the same time, the high cost will seriously restrict the implementation of the US Navy’s development plan. The US Navy is committed to developing advanced weapons such as the new generation of aircraft carriers, the littoral combat ship and the sea-based ballistic missile defense systems. However, all the equipment requires huge amounts of defense investment, which is a big challenge for the current US economy. Take the supercarrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) as an example, the design and construction cost alone is as high as $13.7 billion. It is currently the most expensive aircraft carrier in the world, and its full life cycle cost is expected to exceed $250 billion. The US has also continuously increased its military spending in the past two years. For example, the US military budget for fiscal year 2019 reached $716 billion, but it still cannot meet the needs of huge arms development and procurement. The contradiction between its “great ambition” of seeking the expansion of the navy and the relative national strength decline has become more prominent.
(The author is a researcher at the college of International Relations of the PLA National University of Defense Technology）