Navy Chief Impatient to Avoid Being Out-Sticked

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The Navy’s top officer says he recognizes a long-term concern that the United States might be “out-sticked” in the Asia-Pacific. In an interview with RealClearDefense, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert said he is “impatient” to field systems in the near-term that can bolster U.S. anti-ship capabilities.

That the U.S. Navy might be out-sticked has been a growing fear in the surface warfare community, in which many fear the U.S. is lacking in ship-to-ship warfare. In the expansive Pacific where ships may not always be able to count on the protection of a carrier air wing, this is of particular concern. The Navy’s sole anti-ship missile, the Harpoon, is considered to be increasingly outdated. The United States has not built a ship equipped with Harpoons since the DDG-78 destroyer entered service in 1999. The Navy cruisers that carry the Harpoon are reaching the end of their lifespans. It seems unlikely that the Littoral Combat Ship will be equipped with a credible anti-surface weapon any time soon, if ever.

Meanwhile, China has continued to field vessels with missiles designed to win over-the-horizon, ship-to-ship battles including the Type 051B DDG, the Type 056 Corvette, and the Russian-designed Sovremenny DDG.

A PLAN Type 056 corvette sails with a Type 054 frigate and Type 022 fast attack craft

The concern has now reached the top levels of the U.S. military and national security leadership.

In an interview with RealClearDefense last week, Rep. Randy Forbes stated clearly, “We are technically ‘out-sticked’ by Chinese anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) right now.” The chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee said the Harpoon was “designed in the 1970s and now does not have the range or survivability to operate against more sophisticated anti-surface threats we are seeing from the Chinese PLA Navy today.”

At the Defense One Summit last week, Dr. Arati Prabhakar, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said she too is “concerned about being out-sticked” in the Asia-Pacific. DARPA is now working on a long-range anti-ship missile (LRASM) to close the gap in surface warfare capabilities.   

In an interview with RealClearDefense at the Reagan National Defense Forum, Admiral Greenert said the Navy is hard at work to prevent a serious vulnerability from emerging.

While the Navy had been comfortable with its surface-to-surface capabilities in the recent past, Greenert said that changed when the commander of Pacific Fleet came forward and said the Harpoon was inadequate for the future and in need of replacement. Since then, the Navy has been working to field new “transformational” systems like DARPA’s LRASM, upgrade the Harpoon, make existing longer-range missiles more survivable, and improve sensors, jammers, and other electronic warfare assets.

Greenert said that while he is comfortable now, it’s “reasonably fair” to say there is a real long-term concern about being out-sticked in the future. “I’m not dissatisfied, let’s just say impatient in the near term to get something out there with what we have. Industry can come up with some pretty interesting payloads pretty quickly, and I’d like to see what they’re going to do in the nearer term. “

The Navy chief emphasized that the military does not “think of things like, ship-to-ship, air-to-air,” but rather places emphasis on systems. But he acknowledged “the need is there to deliver something from the ship.” 

Dustin Walker is the Editor of RealClearDefense.

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