By Emelie Rutherford

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said it would be a “disaster” to pass on building future DDG-1000s in favor of another Navy ship, and pledged to remain a strong voice for maintaining the service’s plans for the destroyers that House members have proposed tweaking.

The Navy wants $2.55 billion in fiscal year 2009 to buy a third DDG-1000, and its 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for seven of the destroyers in total.

House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) has talked of skipping the remaining five DDG-1000s and moving to nuclear-powered cruisers, though he has acknowledged difficulties with doing so. House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) has talked of making a DDG-51 large enough to carry a nuclear- power plant, and of stopping at two DDG-1000s and building more DDG-51s with upgraded radars.

“I think it would be a disaster for our Navy to continue to produce a less-capable destroyer when we’re on the verge of building a more-capable ship,” Collins told Defense Daily yesterday, referring to building more DDG-51s in place of more DDG-1000s.

Collins acknowledged the possibility of the DDG-1000 issue becoming a point of friction between the House and Senate that may ultimately be resolved in a conference committee.

“It’s hard to predict, but certainly there are powerful House members who are very strongly for abandoning the DDG-1000, or requiring nuclear propulsion,” she said before a Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee hearing on the Navy’s budget.

The Navy recently signed DDG-1000 contracts with General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works and Northrop Grumman [NOC] Shipbuilding, calling for each shipbuilder to build one of the destroyers. The Navy has already secured funds for those first two ships.

Collins asked a series of questions during yesterday’s hearing that highlighted the benefits of maintain the Navy’s DDG-1000 plans to Navy Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, the deputy chief of naval operations for resources and requirements, and Allison Stiller, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for ship programs.

Collins said capabilities would be sacrificed if the Navy went back to the DDG-51 instead of proceeding with the DDG-1000, and said costs to restart the DDG-51 line would be excessive.

Stiller said there are some estimates for the cost of restarting the DDG-51 line, but the data she has is imperfect.

“We’ve looked at it in a couple of ways, because we’ve been requested from the House side,” Stiller said. “However, I expressed concerns, when I testified before the HASC, that we don’t necessarily understand all the sub-vendor implications.”

Stiller said she may have better data in a couple weeks.

Collins said she has Navy data showing it would cost less to operate the DDG-1000 over 35 years than then DDG-51.

Asked by Collins how important the DDG-51 modernization program is to achieving goal of 313-Navy, McCullough said, “The modernization of our current fleet is the harbinger of the 313 force structure,” he said.