By Emelie Rutherford

Key lawmakers on defense panels said yesterday they were not sold on the Navy’s new plan to stop the DDG-1000 destroyer program at the two ships already funded and build more of the older and cheaper DDG-51 combatants.

Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) said Tuesday he supports continuing to build DDG-1000s. After news spread late Tuesday afternoon on Capitol Hill that the Navy wants to halt production of the destroyers, Inouye said support for the DDG-1000 remains in his chamber.

"There are some very special people in the United States Senate who want this [DDG-1000], one is [Sen.] Ted Kennedy [D-Mass.]," Inouye told Defense Daily yesterday. "And at this stage, it’s kind of difficult to say no to them. And, furthermore, I think a study will show that to upgrade the [DDG-]51 may be a bit more expensive than buying the [DDG-]1000." His panel has not yet marked up its fiscal year 2009 defense appropriations bill.

While the House-passed FY ’09 defense authorization bill would allow the Navy’s new destroyer plans–and the legislation helped spur the service to make the change–the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) version of the FY ’09 defense authorization bill calls for continuing the DDG-1000 line, per the Navy’s original budget request. The Navy previously planned to build five more DDG-1000s, for a total of seven. The new proposal, lawmakers say, calls for approximately nine more DDG-51s.

Kennedy, chairman of the SASC Seapower subcommittee, does not support the Navy’s new plan, his spokeswoman Melissa Wagoner told Defense Daily yesterday.

"No, the Navy has not produced adequate justification for the requested change," she said in an e-mail message, adding Kennedy was contacted by the service Tuesday. "Senator Kennedy believes it is unwise to restart the DDG-51 production line since he agrees with [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy] Adm. [Michael] Mullen that to do so keeps the Navy using 1980s technology when it has a program that is meeting all its milestones to deliver cutting edge technology."

In a statement she elaborated, noting the Navy’s $11 billion investment in the DDG-1000 effort. She said the Navy now wants "to change the long-term shipbuilding plan without presenting an alternative plan to satisfy their future requirements or any discussion with the appropriate congressional oversight committees."

"Senator Kennedy believes that canceling the program is unwise at this time and injects an unacceptable level of risk into Navy shipbuilding," she said, adding Kennedy "looks forward to a full explanation from Navy leadership."

New England lawmakers concerned about the impact on jobs at General Dynamics‘ [GD] Bath Iron Works in Maine and Raytheon [RTN] in Massachusetts have advocated for maintaining the DDG-1000 line (Defense Daily, July 14).

While Inouye’s subcommittee has not yet marked up it version of the FY ’09 Defense Appropriations Bill, aides said in recent weeks that Senate appropriators were expected to follow the SASC’s call for buying one DDG-1000 in FY ’09, at a cost of $2.55 billion. That third ship would be built at Bath Iron Works, which is sharing the DDG-1000 program with Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations defense subcommittee (HAC-D) also has not marked up its version of the defense appropriations bill. Panel Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) — who was recently quoted in a CongressNow story saying he would not favor building additional DDG-51s — mid-day yesterday told reporters he had not yet been briefed by the Navy on the shipbuilding shift, and thus declined to state a specific position.

"Let’s wait and see what it costs," he said, when described the destroyer change by reporters. "I want to wait and look what they have to say."

Asked about his previously reported statement that he wouldn’t allow more DDG-51s, Murtha replied: "That’s what everybody said to me up to that point."

Murtha’s spokesman said he will defer commenting on the destroyer matter until it’s known "what actions defense appropriators have taken in the FY ’09 bill."

SASC member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) remained adamantly opposed to halting the DDG-1000 line yesterday, when she met with Bath Iron Works (BIW) President Dugan Shipway in Washington. While the Maine shipyard also builds DDG-51s, she said in a statement that "the DDG-1000 program provides far more work and about three times the amount of money for BIW per ship."

"The Navy’s decision to curtail the DDG-1000 program is a blow to Bath Iron Works," said Collins, who was called Tuesday by Navy Secretary Donald Winter. She met yesterday with Winter and Chief of Naval Operations [CNO] Adm. Gary Roughead "to discuss ways to lessen the impact of the decision on BIW," she said, which she labeled "potentially devastating" for the shipyard.

Collins holds that if the Navy were to buy nine more DDG-51s, then "BIW would have to be guaranteed the work on virtually all of them to maintain its current workload and prevent job losses."

Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) told reporters yesterday he also believes the Maine shipyard should receive a large chunk of the potential nine DDG-51s that could result from the shipbuilding change. Roughead called Allen Tuesday.

Allen, whose district includes BIW, is trying to unseat Collins in this November’s election. He has made less dire predictions about the jobs impact than Collins has, and said he is "confident that the return to the DDG 51-program will maintain a stable workforce at Bath for years to come."

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and other House Armed Services Committee (HASC) members hailed the news of the Navy’s change of plans on the destroyers.

Collins holds that the Navy would not have truncated the DDG-1000 program if the HASC Seapower subcommittee that Taylor chairs had not intervened.

Taylor, in a Tuesday night interview with Defense Daily, said the ship change was not proposed to help the Ingalls shipyard in his district. He maintains the idea came from "a very senior Navy official" last fall.

"I was taken aback at first," he said. "But [I agreed] the more I thought about the points that that person made…that we have basically about $13 billion a year to rebuild the fleet, and given that [Navy officials] have been so far off on their cost estimations, by a factor or two on a fairly simply ship like the LCS [Littoral Combat Ship], that that makes it a pretty safe bet in my book that they would have been off by a factor of two on the DDG-1000."

Taylor estimates the DDG-1000, pegged to cost $2.55 billion each in the Navy’s budget request, could cost up to $7 billion per ship.

"If you’ve got a good platform that can be built at a reasonable price, that is the world’s best destroyer, then it just makes sense to keep building it," said Taylor, whom Roughead called with the news.

The congressman portrayed the destroyer debate as initially dividing Mullen, the former CNO, and Roughead, his replacement.

Taylor maintains the Navy can build two DDG-51s for the price of one DDG-1000, and that restarting the DDG-51 line will help prepare for a future nuclear-powered CG(X) cruiser. He said the shipyards should know the Navy’s new plan will maintain jobs for them.

HASC Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) said the Navy destroyer change will help the service build up to a 313-ship fleet.

"That’s the Navy’s goal and we have to do our very best to get to that goal as soon as possible," he told Defense Daily.

Skelton said he was happy the Navy conducted a large study on the destroyer change before making a decision. "I compliment them on that," he said.

He said he is "sure there will be" resistance to the idea in Congress, and that he will be reaching out to his colleagues to garner support.

The HASC Seapower subcommittee will still hold its scheduled July 31 hearing on the two destroyer programs, Taylor said.

"The American people need to know this," he said about the Navy’s altered plans. Navy analysts and Allison Stiller, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for ship programs, and Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of resources and capabilities, are slated to attend the hearing. Taylor said a "star" witness may attend as well.

He said the Navy should reach out to Murtha on its shipbuilding change.

"It’s obvious that it’s very important for them to sit down with Congressman Murtha and convince him of the merits of this argument," Taylor said.

Although the Navy has remained nearly silent on the direction it is pursuing for DDG-1000 and DDG-51, a spokesman acknowledged that service officials continue to examine all options.

"We continue to discuss all options to develop the surface-ship force for the future that will meet all identified requirements," Lt. Clay Doss told Defense Daily late yesterday.