By Geoff Fein
Additional analysis needs to be done before the Navy makes a decision on whether to move away from DDG-1000 and restart the DDG-51 production line, according to a top Pentagon official.
"I think there’s [a] substantial amount of additional analytical work to be done," John Young, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, told reporters during a briefing yesterday.
"We certainly have a requirement for future surface combatants," he said.
Young has been at odds with Navy officials as the two sides try to determine the best path forward for destroyers. Until earlier this year, the Navy had been on a path to build seven DDG-1000 multi-mission combat ships. However, by mid-year, the Navy told lawmakers that a rapidly changing threat environment called for truncating the Zumwalt-class ships at three and restarting the DDG-51 class of Arleigh Burke destroyers.
Young was the Navy’s top acquisition official as the service began to develop plans for DDG-1000, known back then as DD(X).
Yesterday, Young told reporters, at low rates of production, initial estimates show building additional Arleigh Burkes will be very expensive.
"The DDGs at low rates of production may well cost on the order of $2 billion at that point in time," he said.
The Navy plan now calls for restarting the DDG-51 line in the 2010 time frame and building eight of the destroyers.
The Navy has General Dynamics [GD] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] under contract to build DDG-1000 and -1001, respectively. Each ship is expected to cost in the range of $3.3 billion.
"Lead ships carry some amount of design [cost], so if you peel that away, the lead ships are about $2.5 billion, and they would go down from there as we go down the learning curve," Young said. "Would I pay a little bit more money to get a hull that can support more radar, [is] acoustically quiet, magnetically quiet, and has a low radar signature?
"Can I go in and work hard on the DDGs at low rate production and get that cost down? Because that’s where we need to have the discussion," he added.
This is not a decision about five years from now, this is a decision about 20 years from now, Young added.
"So can I live with a ’60s…’70s vintage hull in the 2030 time frame? Or do I need a hull that has some of those additional features for the threat in that environment," he said. "To finish this debate we really need to get some…construction returns on 1000 and get a better feel for what it is going to cost."
The Navy does have a legitimate concern that if the DDG-1000s become significantly more expensive than the cost targets projected, it might be hard for the service to afford the ship, Young noted.
"But we have not done enough analysis, especially analysis looking forward as far as the time period when these ships will be a vital part of [the nation’s security]," he added. "We ought to lay in some flexibility in the budget through that analytical work and make a decision. And there are some near-term decision to be made."
For example, Young said, if DDG-1000 is not the hull for the future, building three ships between two yards could be punitively expensive for the taxpayer.
"We are certainly talking internally, and we talk with industry, and industry are willing to talk to the Navy and Pentagon about these issues," Young said. "But those are just discussions at this time."