By Geoff Fein
The Navy will have to learn to curb its appetite and not pile everything it wants onto new ships if the service hopes to keep the costs of platforms such as DDG-1000 and CG(X) affordable, according to the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
"I believe we can be more effective in the definition of our requirements, [by] putting ourselves on appetite suppressants and making sure we are only putting into the ships what we need and not everything things that everybody wants," Adm. Gary Roughead told reporters yesterday.
Roughead has been CNO for two months, and since he took over for Adm. Mike Mullen, he has hit the ground running, paying visits to Iraq, sailors in the Central Command area of operations and aboard the USNS Comfort, delivering the Navy’s Maritime Strategy and the CNO’s Guidance.
Yesterday, Roughead told reporters he is working closely with Navy Secretary Donald Winter on the Navy’s acquisition process.
The Navy is facing some tough times ahead after seeing the construction cost of the first two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) almost double, and hearing the concerns of lawmakers and defense analysts over the potential cost of DDG-1000, CVN-78 and CG(X).
"There is no question shipbuilding costs are going up," Roughead said.
Besides curbing the Navy’s requirements appetite, providing stability to the shipbuilding lines would also help make things more affordable, he added.
"The other aspect I believe in getting our shipbuilding costs under control is getting some stability in the lines, and getting the programs going," Roughead said, "so the shipbuilders can become more efficient because they have a more stable production line going.
"This is not an issue where one party is going to solve the whole problem," he added. "We have to figure out a way to go forward and build the type of ships that we need and make sure that we’re building that which we need and not gold plating these things."
Although the LCS program has hit hard times, starting the year with an acquisition plan of six ships and ending the year with only two ships under construction and the cost of the ships seeing considerable cost overruns, Roughead maintained the ship is a much-needed gap filler.
"That ship gives us a capability in a range of scenarios. Whether it is mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, or countering small surface craft, that is a capability [that] a few years ago we decided we needed to move [toward]," he said. "The modularity of the mission systems is a new way for us to go, but it gives us that type of flexibility."
It’s LCS’ flexibility that will enable the ship to take the Navy across the spectrum of operations contained in the new maritime strategy: deterrence, forward presence, humanitarian assistance, maritime security and power projection, Roughead noted.
Even though the Navy cancelled the second ships of both the General Dynamics‘ [GD]-led team and the Lockheed Martin [LMT]- led team, after the service was unable to work out new contracts with both teams, the Navy still intends to build 55 LCS.
Roughead said he is not giving any thought to changing the total number of LCS the Navy plans to procure.
"No, it’s not causing me to rethink the number that we are going to buy. My objective is to get LCS-1 and -2 out, get them through operational assessment, and then make decisions as to where they are going to go in that line," he said. "[The] challenge we face in the procurement doesn’t change the need for the ship, nor does it change the objective number of the ship.
"We have to clearly get the cost down as much as we can, but it does not change my commitment to having that capability, because it is an area that we have to be able to operate in, the littoral, and we have to be able to operate with ships that can move at the speed LCS can move."
While Roughead has not yet visited any shipbuilding sites since becoming CNO, he did tour both Marinette Marine [MTW] in Wisconsin, where Lockheed Martin is building the USS Freedom (LCS-1), and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., where General Dynamics is building the USS Independence (LCS-2), in June, when he was Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
"I was very impressed with what I saw in both cases…the quality of work, the technology, and the innovation. But what struck me about LCS was the size. These are not small ships," he said. "What [shipbuilders] have been able to do with the configurations…I just see tremendous potential with the ships. I see a tremendous amount of capacity in the ships, and as I have said, the only regret I have is that I am not 25 years younger."
Next year before the FY ’09 defense budget is delivered to the Hill, Roughead will submit his shipbuilding plan to lawmakers.
During his nomination hearing in September, Roughead told the Senate Armed Services Committee he will continue to work to build up the fleet and get to 313 ships, the proposed build in the 30-year shipbuilding plan, as a floor (Defense Daily, Sept. 28)
Some analysts have questioned whether the shipbuilding plan needs to be re-examined. The rising cost of LCS is just a foreshadowing of the increasing costs of more technologically advanced ships such as DDG-1000 and CG(X), analysts have said.
The Navy’s current plan calls for seven of the advanced combat ships to be built, with the dual lead ships costing approximately $3.2 billion to build. A few years back there were discussions on the Hill as to whether it would be best to build two DDG-1000s to use as testbeds for the next-generation cruiser, CG(X). The Navy, however, has stood by its plan to build all seven ships.
Roughead said DDG-1000 will bring some significant capabilities to the Navy. "And I think that technology is a bridging technology to the future," he said. "We will continue to always look at what our force structure needs to be. We file shipbuilding plans annually, but as far as ‘do I have any views of changed numbers,’ no I do not."