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U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski

The US Navy wants to expand its fleet to 355 ships, and she may have found a way to reach that goal 20 years earlier by keeping ships in the fleet longer. Surface vessels, including frigates, destroyers, cruisers and even amphibious ships, could extend their service life as the service increases its total number of ships.

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U.S. Naval Institute News reports that Vice Admiral Tom Moore, head of the Naval Sea Systems Command, believes the Navy could achieve its vaunted fleet of 355 ships by putting something in the dry dock with aircraft carriers already in practice for maintenance and upgrades. This would extend the life and benefits of existing vessels, a cheaper and cheaper alternative to simply buying more vessels.

The Navy had notorious difficulty planning a course for its target of 355 ships. US Navy warships are very capable and expensive, and a lot buys a bit. Even an increase in the budget for the fleet has been so modest. Combined with the Navy's tendency to retire warships relatively early, the service ends five steps forward and four steps back.

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But what if Littoral Combat ships for 32 to 35 years instead of 25 years for naval frigates? What if the big deck amphibious ships, like the wasp troop transporters needed 46 to 53 instead of their planned 40 years? What if the Lewis & Clark class cargo ships were served 50 instead of the original 40 years? That's the kind of thinking Moore suggests.

Under previous projections, the Navy thought it would take until 2052 to reach the 355 ship target. With this new approach, this goal could be achieved within a timeframe of 2032-2035. By slowing the pension, the Navy could take five steps forward and only three steps back and reach its destination sooner.

Would it work? As Moore notes, the US Navy tends to decommission warships that serve foreign fleets for another twenty years. India has old amphibious ships, and several allies sail older frigates and destroyers, some with significant weapon upgrades. Moore considers the Navy's open architecture system and the versatility of weapons such as the Aegis Combat System and the Mk. 41 Vertical Rocket Missile Silo means that the current surface force could still be relevant for a long time – of course periodic weapon and electronics upgrades.

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