Maritime Armament Trends 2024-2030

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991‭, ‬the naval fleets of major powers gradually withdrew from the seas and oceans‭. ‬This trend began with the Russian Navy‭, ‬which rarely ventured far from its bases for over two decades‭. ‬The United States also gradually reduced the size of its fleet‭. ‬Awareness of the strategic importance of maritime military activity in the West only‭ ‬resurfaced in the early 2010s due to China’s increasing desire to control the South China Sea and maritime Silk Road routes‭. ‬Many regions‭, ‬including the Pacific‭, ‬the Mediterranean‭, ‬the Indian Ocean‭, ‬and the Arctic‭, ‬are witnessing continuous military naval‭ ‬rearmament‭.‬

Study Objectives

First‭: ‬Key determinants of maritime armament trends in the next six years‭:‬

1‭- The chronic geopolitical environment stimulating intensified naval armament‭.‬

Given the geopolitical developments‭, ‬maritime competition between regional and international powers has reached unprecedented levels‭. ‬In regions like Asia and the Pacific‭, ‬the competition has evolved from acquiring a larger share of maritime influence to a‭ ‬new phase involving armament and readiness‭.‬

The Chinese PLA Navy‭, ‬reaching operational capabilities for its naval vessels‭, ‬compelled the United States and its allies to increase investments to enhance their naval capabilities and adjust related security strategies‭. ‬This is especially true after voices emerged suggesting the end of the era of American naval dominance‭, ‬with the United States allegedly relinquishing the oceans‭ ‬to its adversaries‭. ‬The concept of free seas can no longer be taken for granted‭.‬

China will seek further maritime control between 2024‭ ‬and 2030‭, ‬exemplified by the commissioning of the‭ “‬Fujian‭” ‬aircraft carrier into operational service by the end of 2025‭.‬

This new Chinese aircraft carrier possesses technology closely resembling American technology‭, ‬such as the‭ “‬electromagnetic catapult‭” ‬system that facilitates the easy and rapid launch of large and modern aircraft like the Chinese J-15T fighter and other massive fuel carriers‭. ‬

This addition will undoubtedly strengthen China’s maritime capabilities‭.‬

Comparison Between the US and Chinese Navies‭ ‬‭(‬The chart attached represents only the Chinese military navy‭, ‬specifically the People’s Liberation Army Navy‭ – ‬PLAN‭, ‬and not the Coast Guard fleet‭.)‬

The direct and indirect security repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian War will continue to influence maritime armament in the‭ ‬coming years‭. ‬

Additionally‭, ‬new maritime confrontations and conflicts will arise worldwide‭. ‬An example of this is the Indian Navy’s plan‭, ‬at the end of last year‭, ‬to deploy three missile-equipped destroyer ships in the Arabian Sea in response to attacks on commercial ships off the Indian coast to‭ “‬maintain a deterrent presence‭.”‬

2‭- The persistence of the expansion and diversification of maritime control and warfare arenas‭ ‬

Over time‭, ‬the military maritime domain has encompassed various new arenas‭, ‬including air-sea and amphibious operations‭. ‬Between‭ ‬2024‭ ‬and 2030‭, ‬naval forces will strive to evolve more than ever‭, ‬exploring new conflict areas such as cyberspace and cognitive‭ ‬conflict‭. ‬They will also strengthen their presence in complex arenas‭, ‬such as the deep sea‭, ‬outer space‭, ‬and the electromagnetic field‭.‬

The desire to control the depths of the seas is intensifying the underwater conflicts‭, ‬particularly given their growing strategic importance for the global economy and in the field of communications‭. ‬

This is highlighted by the fact that marine optical fibre cables are responsible for facilitating over 90%‭ ‬of digital data movement worldwide‭. ‬

The world map of crucial marine cables underscores the significant tasks that the navy must increasingly undertake in the coming‭ ‬years to safeguard the depths where these cables lie‭. ‬Disrupting these cables would undoubtedly lead to substantial strategic disruptions‭.‬

In addition to communication cables‭, ‬the ocean floor has also been utilized for electrical cables‭ (‬such as those connecting France and Ireland‭) ‬and gas and oil pipelines‭ (‬like Nord Stream under the Baltic Sea or the Turkish Stream beneath the Black Sea‭). ‬

Moreover‭, ‬submerged data centres add another dimension‭, ‬requiring increased attention from naval forces in the coming days‭. ‬Consequently‭, ‬naval forces will seek to vertically enhance their operational capabilities from the sea surface to its depths‭.‬

For instance‭, ‬the French Ministry of Armed Forces aims to control the ocean floor up to a depth of 6000‭ ‬meters‭, ‬following in the‭ ‬footsteps of the American and Chinese navies‭.‬

Concepts such as‭ “‬Undersea Warfare‭” ‬or the‭ “‬Great Chinese Underwater Wall‭” ‬highlight the strategic importance attached to the ocean floor‭. ‬Addressing this‭ “‬strategic ocean floor‭” ‬perspective militarily will necessitate increased or enhanced naval capabilities‭, ‬including‭:‬

1‭. ‬Permanent or semi-permanent sensing systems‭, ‬especially through underwater drones‭, ‬to protect strategic areas‭.‬

2‭. ‬Data collection and processing systems to handle the information gathered by sensing devices‭.‬

3‭. ‬Intervention capabilities against any threat‭.‬

Therefore‭, ‬given the inclination of influential countries such as China‭, ‬to establish a strategic submarine system to restrict access to specific areas‭ (‬A2‭/‬AD‭) ‬and prevent foreign forces from accessing its territories‭ (‬anti-access‭ – ‬A2‭), ‬along with limiting their effectiveness in case of penetrating defence lines‭ (‬AD‭ – ‬area denial‭), ‬naval armament trends in the period 2024-2030‭ ‬will depend on the development of new capabilities‭, ‬as well as the priority given in this field‭. ‬

Thus‭, ‬naval forces will more than ever need mine warfare-related technologies‭.‬

On the other end of the geographic spectrum‭, ‬the importance of air and outer space for naval forces will increase more than ever‭ ‬between 2024‭ ‬and 2030‭. ‬This is due to the easier access to these domains by countries that lacked such capabilities in the past‭. ‬

Consequently‭, ‬the emergence of private companies and new technologies may lead to a potential increase in conflicts in the air and space‭. ‬

More conflicts may arise due to the denial of access to satellites and the increased use of jamming and cyber warfare‭. ‬Given the‭ ‬importance of satellite capabilities in the maritime domain‭, ‬naval forces find themselves caught in the paradox of increasing reliance on space to enhance operational capabilities while simultaneously increasing their ability to reduce dependence on space‭ ‬through various navigation means‭.‬

With the development of military digital technologies and military satellite capabilities such as the French Syracuse system‭, ‬communication possibilities have become a reality‭. ‬In this sense‭, ‬the digitization of the battlefield takes on the form of a doctrinal revolution for naval forces‭, ‬transforming the ship from a conceived‭ “‬isolated unit‭” ‬to a‭ “‬communication platform‭”, ‬this communication can be categorized as follows‭:‬

1‭. ‬Horizontal‭: ‬The ability to coordinate operations between various platforms‭, ‬both manned and unmanned‭.‬

2‭. ‬Vertical‭: ‬The integration of communication systems or data processing from the air and space to the ocean floor‭.‬

This doctrinal revolution in naval communication is also a prerequisite for the integration of several systems related to the digital field‭, ‬notably unmanned aerial‭, ‬surface‭, ‬or underwater vehicles‭. ‬These vehicles must have permanent or at least relatively‭ ‬stable communication capabilities‭. ‬

Therefore‭, ‬the increasing digitization of the battle arena for major naval fleets worldwide will grow in the coming years‭, ‬focusing on three interconnected and central issues as follows‭:‬

A‭. ‬Cyber and electromagnetic protection for data processing and communication systems between platforms‭ (‬the resilience issue‭).‬

B‭. ‬Ensuring interoperability between systems and data links concerning allies and partners outside the scope of NATO‭, ‬which has‭ ‬already taken this aspect into account significantly through working on tactical data links‭ (‬the issue of interoperability‭).‬

C‭. ‬Ensuring the compatibility between the development of digital naval systems onboard ships and the platforms‭’ ‬ability to continue operating at a reasonable level in case of loss or disruption of access to all these systems or part of them‭ (‬the issue of flexibility‭).‬

Secondly‭: ‬Key Maritime Armament Trends in the Next 6‭ ‬Years‭:‬

1‭- The Increasing Pace of Naval Forces‭’ “‬Missileization‭”‬

The Russian-Ukrainian War highlighted the growing importance of missiles in modern naval operations‭, ‬whether against land targets launched from the sea or against naval or aerial targets‭. ‬

Missiles have become a decisive element in naval warfare‭, ‬despite their relatively recent use‭, ‬which began during World War II‭. ‬However‭, ‬their pivotal role was only truly realized in 1967‭ ‬when a Soviet-made Styx missile‭, ‬launched by an Egyptian patrol boat‭, ‬sank an Israeli destroyer at sea‭.‬

From that point on‭, ‬missiles became the most widely used weapon in naval warfare‭, ‬carrying both conventional and nuclear payloads‭. ‬Currently‭, ‬various platforms‭, ‬including surface ships‭, ‬aircraft‭, ‬submarines‭, ‬coastal defences‭, ‬and unmanned aerial vehicles‭, ‬are capable of utilizing them‭. ‬

Key advantages of using missiles include‭:‬

1‭. ‬Extended Range‭: ‬Allowing the targeting of enemies from a distance without excessive risk to the launcher‭.‬

2‭. ‬Variety of Types‭: ‬Cruise‭, ‬ballistic‭, ‬supersonic‭, ‬and hypersonic missiles cater to different environments—surface‭, ‬maritime‭, ‬or aerial‭.‬

3‭. ‬Continuous Improvement‭: ‬Ongoing enhancements in military capabilities‭, ‬range‭, ‬and some versions capable of transcontinental reach‭, ‬allowing missiles to reach all targets‭.‬

The manufacturing and trade of missiles are expected to grow between 2021-2030‭ ‬due to increased global tensions and the augmented production of new naval vessels‭.‬

Despite their diversity and secretive production by some countries‭, ‬making it challenging to estimate their numbers accurately‭, ‬studies suggest that the naval missile and launch system market could grow by around 6%‭ ‬annually between 2021-2030‭.‬

In this context‭, ‬the expected growth and modernization of the U.S‭. ‬Navy in the coming years are likely to boost the missile market‭. ‬For example‭, ‬in October 2023‭, ‬Huntington Ingalls Industries‭ (‬HII‭), ‬a U.S‭. ‬ship and submarine builder‭, ‬secured a‭ $‬154.8‭ ‬million contract from the U.S‭. ‬Navy to upgrade the USS Zumwalt DDG-1000‭ ‬stealth destroyer‭. ‬The upgrade includes equipping the warship‭ ‬with new electrical equipment‭, ‬in addition to the hypersonic CPS missile system‭.‬

The planned construction of dozens of naval bases worldwide is also expected to generate significant demand for new missile systems‭. ‬Many countries are rapidly expanding their arsenals to equip their growing fleets‭.‬

For instance‭, ‬the Canadian Navy plans to replace its Iroquois and Halifax warships with 15‭ ‬new ships by the end of the decade‭, ‬armed with Tomahawk missiles‭, ‬Sea Sparrow naval missiles‭, ‬and the Sea Ceptor defence system‭.‬

India has expressed interest in acquiring BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles for its new warships‭. ‬Moreover‭, ‬major arms manufacturers are increasingly turning to missile production‭, ‬and local regional players‭, ‬notably Turkey‭, ‬are entering the missile manufacturing market‭.‬

The next major development is achieving extreme speed and manoeuvrability in missiles‭, ‬specifically‭, ‬those capable of speeds greater than Mach 5‭ ‬with the ability to manoeuvre at the end of the trajectory‭, ‬making interception extremely challenging‭. ‬

Few countries are developing such missiles and trying to overcome the complex technological obstacles that still hinder their deployment‭.‬

As of early 2023‭, ‬Russia possessed hypersonic Zircon missiles and a scramjet-powered vehicle exceeding the speed of sound‭. ‬China‭ ‬announced that it possesses DF21‭ ‬and DF26‭ ‬manoeuvrable ballistic missiles‭, ‬along with hypersonic glide vehicles‭.‬

Furthermore‭, ‬The United States has ongoing projects for hypersonic missiles‭, ‬including a scramjet-powered glide vehicle intended‭ ‬to enable its latest destroyers and Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines‭ – ‬expected to enter service around 2025-‭ ‬to strike ground targets‭.‬

Other nations‭, ‬such as France‭, ‬Japan‭, ‬and India‭, ‬are working on developing hypersonic missiles for their naval forces‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬the Indian Navy successfully conducted a test in March 2023‭, ‬launching a supersonic BrahMos missile from a ship in the Arabian Sea‭.‬

Due to the technical complexities and high costs of hypersonic missiles in the maritime domain‭, ‬it is unlikely‭, ‬in the short term‭, ‬that even advanced nations will be able to produce these weapons in large numbers‭.‬

However‭, ‬such missiles will undoubtedly play a deterrent role in naval warfare between 2024‭ ‬and 2030‭, ‬and research is already underway to devise defences against these weapons‭.‬

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced late last year in 2023‭ ‬that the multi-purpose nuclear submarines of the‭ “‬Yasen-M‭” ‬class possess formidable weapons‭, ‬including long-range precision missiles capable of targeting both surface and coastal installations‭. ‬

He explained that the two new nuclear submarines‭, ‬named‭ “‬Emperor Alexander III‭” ‬and‭ “‬Krasnoyarsk‭,” ‬are unmatched missile carriers in their class and are set to enter service as part of the Russian naval force‭. ‬

Moreover‭, ‬he emphasized Russia’s commitment to enhancing its naval strength and expanding its maritime presence in all strategic regions of international waters‭.‬

International partnerships and collaboration in missile manufacturing are also on the rise‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬Norway and Germany have jointly declared their efforts to develop the new supersonic anti-ship missile‭, ‬3SM Tyrfing‭, ‬to replace the Kongsberg NSM by 2035‭.‬

The evolving reality of anti-ship missile capabilities will compel defence policymakers and naval strategists to adapt to avoid‭ ‬defeat‭.‬

In this context‭, ‬Albert Balazo from the University of New South Wales warns that we may be witnessing the beginning of a leap in‭ ‬the capabilities of land-based anti-ship missiles‭.‬

2‭- Breakthroughs in Weapons Production and Use Based on‭ “‬New Physical Principles‭”‬

Traditional weapon systems rely on kinetic principles‭, ‬where projectiles or missiles accelerate and hit the target‭. ‬However‭, ‬more modern weapons are based on‭ “‬new physical principles‭”, ‬enabling them to operate differently‭, ‬targeting their objectives through electromagnetic pulses‭, ‬lasers‭, ‬particle beams‭, ‬or charged-neutral particle beams‭. ‬For instance‭, “‬plasma weapons‭” ‬can destroy‭ ‬aerial targets without resorting to traditional missiles‭. ‬Such weapons include electromagnetic weapons‭ (‬using a strong and pulsed current‭, ‬typically from coherent electromagnetic optical radiation found in certain types of lasers‭, ‬or non-coherent optical radiation for targeting‭) ‬and directed energy weapons‭.  ‬These military technologies do not involve conventional explosive projectiles but utilize highly focused energy such as electric‭, ‬laser‭, ‬or electromagnetic radiation to precisely target and destroy or disable objectives‭.‬

Directed energy weapons are categorized based on the type of energy they use‭, ‬including sound and radiation‭, ‬light‭, ‬particles‭, ‬plasma‭, ‬and high-frequency‭ “‬microwave‭” ‬weapons‭.‬

The desired effects of such weapons on the target vary from destroying physical objects to confusing and redirecting or even disabling machinery or individuals‭. ‬These weapons work by either directly delivering energy such as laser and electromagnetic weapons or by utilizing energy to launch inert projectiles such as electric cannons‭. ‬

Although the development and experimentation of these weapons have been ongoing for several years‭, ‬an increase in their pace of‭ ‬development and utilization is expected in the coming years‭, ‬driven by the following features‭:‬

1‭. ‬Broad and innovative range of use‭, ‬from countering unmanned aerial vehicles to neutralizing satellites

2‭. ‬Precision

3‭. ‬Speed

4‭. ‬A wide spectrum of effects to choose from based on the objective‭ (‬disruption‭, ‬paralysis‭, ‬destruction‭, ‬etc‭.)‬

5‭. ‬Cost-effectiveness‭, ‬given the absence of traditional ammunition

6‭. ‬Limited collateral damage

7‭. ‬Higher operational secrecy compared to conventional weapons

The U.S‭. ‬Navy has been a pioneer in employing directed energy weapons‭. ‬In 2014‭, ‬its experimental laser weapon‭, “‬AN/SEQ-3‭,” ‬with‭ ‬a power of 33‭ ‬kilowatts on a maritime transport ship‭, ‬successfully destroyed structural fixtures mounted on a small boat without‭ ‬causing damage to the boat itself‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬it managed to down an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from a ship‭. ‬In August 2022‭, ‬the U.S‭. ‬Navy deployed its first operational high-energy laser weapon system known as‭ “‬High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance‭” (‬HELIOS‭) ‬with a power of 60‭ ‬kilowatts‭. ‬

Lockheed Martin‭, ‬the producer‭, ‬emphasizes that HELIOS is not just a high-energy laser weapon‭; ‬it is an integrated weapons system‭, ‬including long-range intelligence‭, ‬surveillance‭, ‬reconnaissance‭ (‬C-ISR‭) ‬and anti-drone‭ (‬ISR‭) ‬capabilities‭. ‬HELIOS integrates high-power laser technology and optical dazzler technology on the ship‭, ‬changing the rules of the game by combining high-power laser technology and dazzler optical technology for swift‭, ‬accurate and cost-effective targeting operations‭.‬

Another advantage of this weapon is its high upgradeability‭, ‬enabling it to deal with future threats‭.  ‬Moreover‭, ‬in 2024‭, ‬the U‭.‬S‭. ‬Navy aims to test the‭ “‬High Energy Laser Counter‭  ‬Anti-Ship Cruise Missile Program‭” (‬HELCAP‭) ‬with a power of 300‭ ‬kilowatts‭.‬

For his part‭, ‬Russian President Putin‭, ‬speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok‭, ‬announced that Russia is working on manufacturing weapons based on new physical principles to ensure the security of any country in the near future‭.‬

Russia aims to innovate and develop weapons with unique physical properties using modern technologies and previously unused operational principles‭. ‬This includes laser weapons‭, ‬supersonic radiation‭, ‬radio frequencies‭, ‬and more‭.‬

3‭- The Development of More Unmanned Naval Vehicles and Underwater Drones

The Russian-Ukrainian War highlighted the increasing role of maritime drones in modern warfare‭, ‬as armed forces seek more than ever to minimize human losses‭. ‬Consequently‭, ‬literature anticipates that maritime drones will be among the most crucial tools in‭ ‬future wars due to their distinct advantages‭.‬

While recent years have witnessed a surge in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles‭ (‬UAVs‭), ‬the naval armaments sector will likely experience a similar wave in the coming years concerning unmanned and autonomous maritime vehicles‭. ‬

The need for these vehicles will grow‭, ‬particularly in surveillance missions and even some offensive tasks‭. ‬Many countries are already working on the development of more underwater drones‭, ‬one of the prominent emerging trends in naval equipment development‭. ‬This trend is driven by several factors‭, ‬notably the reduction of risks and threats faced by crews and the more costly maritime assets‭. ‬In the upcoming years‭, ‬there will be an accelerated pace in the development of technological capabilities within major‭ ‬naval forces‭, ‬leading to an increase in unmanned systems and platforms‭. ‬These include unmanned aerial vehicles‭ (‬UAVs‭), ‬unmanned‭ ‬surface vehicles‭ (‬USVs‭), ‬and unmanned underwater vehicles‭ (‬UUVs‭), ‬all equipped with enhanced technological features‭, ‬including‭ ‬advanced sensor systems‭.‬

Conclusion‭:‬

As always‭, ‬flexibility and the ability to adapt‭, ‬especially in the face of climate change effects‭, ‬will be the key to naval armament in the coming years for any naval forces seeking to ensure their capability to confront the challenges of the next few decades‭.‬

This is particularly true in a geopolitical and military environment marked by uncertainty‭. ‬Holding onto a singular perspective‭ ‬on the geopolitical environment was acceptable when preparing to face a predictable adversary‭, ‬but such an approach is unsuitable in the context of the dynamic and uncertain environment that the naval forces will encounter more than ever‭.‬

Furthermore‭, ‬integrating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence and leveraging them will be an integral part of addressing the challenges that naval forces will increasingly face in the coming years‭. ‬These challenges include demographic‭ (‬such as migration‭), ‬technological‭, ‬data/information and communication security‭, ‬energy security‭, ‬environmental and climate challenges‭, ‬as well as challenges related to geopolitical and military power shifts‭.‬

Based on the above‭, ‬we can assert that the three domains in which naval forces operate‭ – “‬surface‭,” “‬air‭,” ‬and‭ “‬underwater‭” – ‬will witness specific innovations and developments shaping the future of naval armament in the decades to come‭. ‬In conclusion‭, ‬a final determinant that will significantly impact naval armament in the coming years is the inevitability of cooperative combat and interoperability‭, ‬as illustrated in the previous diagram‭.‬

»‬‭ ‬By‭: ‬Professor Wael Saleh
‭(‬Expert at Trends Research‭ & ‬Advisory Center‭)‬

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