Washington: US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper highlighted that the primary area of operations for the US armed forces is the Indo-Pacific and China poses the single biggest threat to the US. He further announced that the US Navy was therefore launching the plan titled the ‘Future Forward’ to curb Chinese maritime activities. Accordingly, the US Navy plans to expand sea fleet of warships and ships to 355, which would include unmanned and autonomous warships, submarines and advanced drones. Currently, the US Navy comprises of 293 warships and vessels, but the strength of the fleet is weaker in comparison to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Recently, the US Department of Defence (DoD) had released a report that stated the PLAN fleet had 350 warships and vessels.
On Wednesday, in a speech at the think tank RAND Corporation, Defence Secretary Esper provided information on the ambitious naval plan. Esper called the new strategy a ‘game-changer’ and elaborated on it, ‘The future fleet will be more balanced in its ability to deliver lethal effects from the air, from the sea, and from under the sea. This will be a major shift in how we will conduct naval warfare in the years and decades to come.’
The $207 billion provision is expected in the US defence budget for fiscal 2021. According to Esper’s Future Forward plan, a significant chunk from it will be assigned for new and advanced warships as well as the construction of submarines. Esper’s new plan also hints at the inclusion of warships, amphibious ships, unmanned ships and autonomous warships. He went on to claim that the naval fleet would increasingly operationalize unmanned and autonomous warships as also systems in the coming times. The drone warship ‘Sea Hunter’ has been built for the US Navy, and it can carry out surveillance operations for a staggering period of over two months, the Defence Secretary said.
Previously, during the Presidency of Barack Obama, the defence spending was slashed significantly. Robert Gates, the then Defence Secretary had ordered a cut of more than $150 billion in defence spending for the Navy and other armed forces. The reduced cost reflected on several extensive naval plans. The defence spending cut is said to have attributed to the US Navy falling behind the Chinese PLA Navy in strength. Therefore, Esper’s proposed plan is significant.
Esper asserted that the ambitious plan charted out for the US Navy would ensure its supremacy over China in marine waters. He added that in order to achieve the objective, a provision of over billions of dollars would have to be made until 2045 for the Navy. Moreover, Esper said that the Indo-Pacific region was a priority theatre for the Navy and key reason for it, is that it is an epicentre of great power competition with China.