U.S. Navy Delays Test of Future Force Concepts Due to COVID-19

MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight deck of the LCS USS Detroit (USN file image)

Published Mar 25, 2020 9:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing in the United States, the U.S. Navy has postponed a key exercise meant to test out future concepts of warfighting. The aptly-named Large Scale Exercise 2020 would have gathered together manned and (according to USNI News) unmanned vessels for an exploration of distributed, networked operations. 

"After careful consideration, Large Scale Exercise 2020, planned to be executed this summer, is postponed until 2021 in a joint decision made by U.S. Fleet Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and U.S. Naval Forces Europe," a U.S. Fleet Forces spokesperson told Inside Defense. "The postponement of the exercise will allow the Navy to remain focused on ensuring the safety of the sailors, Marines, civilian staffs, and their families amidst the Navy's COVID-19 crisis response effort, as well as ensuring the continued mission capability of the fleets."

As recently as last week, the Navy had indicated that LSE 2020 would move forward. 

LSE 2020 was conceived under the administration of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson as a testbed for Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO), the strategy of deploying large numbers of widely-distributed assets instead of concentrated strike groups. Many American defense strategists view concentrated ship formations as increasingly vulnerable to attack by sophisticated near-peer forces (China and Russia). 

“We have to recognize that, given the reach and capabilities of our competitors, force concentration may be problematic,” said Fleet Forces Command commander Adm. Christopher Grady at last year's Surface Navy Symposium. “We are once again in a long-term strategic competition with nations that want to change the international order in their favor.”

Plans for this summer's Rim of the Pacific exercise - the giant biennial gathering that draws tens of thousands of naval personnel and countless assets from American-allied nations - have not yet been altered.