Eye on the Navy – The Navy has a shipbuilding plan, and they’re sticking to it

Eye on the Navy

The Navy has a shipbuilding plan, and they’re sticking to it

By Edward Lundquist

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“The practice around town has been for far too long, to pay other bills by robbing the shipbuilding accounts. We're not going to do that anymore. We're going to fence the funds we put in there, we're going to get a handle on requirements and we're going to stabilize the whole process. “

 

- Admiral Mike Mullen, Chief of naval Operations, To the Surface Navy Association National Symposium, Hyatt Regency, Arlington, Va., January 10, 2006

 

That the U.S. Navy needs to maintain its current fleet to the most modern standards, and recapitalize it to provide the right fleet for the future, seems obvious.  But the investment has been uneven over the years, victimized by competing priorities within the Navy and the other services.

 

Chief of Naval operations, Adm. Mike Mullen, thinks it makes sense to the Navy and to industry to make a serious commitment to shipbuilding.  The Navy will grow from the current 289 ships to 313, with an average of $13.4 billion per year (in FY05 dollars) invested in shipbuilding – an amount that will not be tampered with.  That’s about thirty percent more money than the current expenditure.

 

The 313 ship total is not arbitrary, but the result of considerable study.  “The analysis concluded that a fleet of about 313 ships is the force necessaryto meet all of the demands, and to pace the most advanced technological challengers well into the future, with an acceptable level of risk.  The Navy expects to achieve this force structure by FY 2012,” Mullen testified to Congress in March.

 

It isn’t just the number of ships, or the amount of money, that is truly significant here.  True, both reflect a serious commitment.  The real news is how the Navy wants to stick to the requirements and stabilize the shipbuilding workload.

 

Critics say the Navy’s plan is too optimistic. 

 

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee

Projection forces subcommittee, speaking at a Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) briefing at the U.S. Capitol on March 30, said that Navy shipbuilding calls for “far more platforms than we will be able to procure.”

 

Later that day, at a hearing, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Bartlett said “the money is not there unless we [in Congress] raise the top line,” referring to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. 

 

Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter has testified to Congress earlier this year that The FY 2007 budget for shipbuilding ensures that tomorrow’s fleet will remain the world’s preeminent. In FY 2007, fourteen ships will be delivered to the Navy that include: four Amphibious Transport Dock ships (LPD) – (Hurricane Katrina impact may delay two ships to FY 2008), three Dry Cargo and Ammunition ships (T-AKE), three Guided-Missile Destroyers (DDG), one Amphibious Assault ship (LHD), one Attack submarine (SSN), and one Oceanographic Survey ship (T-AGS). Also, the first of its class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be delivered, built in less than two years. This is the payoff of previous years’ investments toward buying naval capabilities for the future.”

 

The plan provides for transformational warships, like the multi-mission DD(X) destroyer and the focused-mission Littoral Combat Ship.

 

“The FY 2007 shipbuilding plan supports the Navy’s vision of a new generation of ships with higher speed, more persistence and precision, and reduced manpower and life-cycle costs. The Navy’s challenge is to build a fleet of the future that possesses the capability and capacity to meet joint demands for naval forces across the spectrum of operations from major combat operations to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Winter said.

 

There are challenges with building fewer and more expensive ships. 

 

These goals are attainable, say Navy officials.  One of the officers in charge of executing the plan, Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, director for Surface Warfare, says the Navy must set achievable requirements, and stick to them.  

 

The Navy Secretary doesn’t want to tell the shipbuilding industry how to divide up the available work.  Winter told attendees at the Navy Leagues Sea-Air-Space Expo in Washington this April that he is “looking for industry to come back to us with executable options, not just options focused on their own self-interests.”

 

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Capt. Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.), is a senior technical director with Anteon Corporation, Washington, DC.  He supports the U.S. Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.  The view expressed in this article are his own.

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