By Dave Ahearn

The current Navy program to convert 18 cruisers and destroyers to the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability, which will be completed by the end of this year, will have to be expanded to cover roughly 90 ships, a senior Navy officer said yesterday.

“Eighteen ships is not enough to provide a robust missile defense capability,” said Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations, speaking before a National Defense University breakfast forum at the Capitol Hill Club.

“The real number is somewhere around 90,” he said, because there are increasing requests for BMD coverage coming from combatant commanders in the European theater, the Central Command theater and the Pacific theater.

Therefore, “it takes a lot more ships than the 18 we have” set for upgrade by the end of the calendar year, he said.

Later, responding to a question from the audience, McCullough said, “I think we need on the order of 89 or more” ships. There will more than 60 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke– class destroyers once production of the class is complete, unless perhaps eight or nine more of them are built. And there are more than 20 Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

“We really need the advanced…integrated missile defense capability,” he said.

McCullough also spoke to the financial crunch facing not only the Navy, but other armed forces as well.

“We’re expending more money for operations and maintenance right now than we ever have, and [yet] we’ve got fewer ships than we had and fewer airplanes than we had,” he noted.

The number of ships and submarines in the Navy fleet declined from a peak of almost 600 in the 1980s to about 280 currently as it rebounds and begins heading for a planned eventual 313-vessel fleet.

There also is a shortfall of 69 strike fighter aircraft in fiscal year 2017, he noted.

Aside from Aegis upgrades to cruisers and destroyers, there also is technology on the future DDG-1000 destroyer in development that can be migrated to the CG(X) future cruiser, he said, including computer programs and radar capabilities, open architecture of computing platforms, a high-powered electrical system, an advanced gun system, long-range land attack capabilities, and fire suppression both on the flight deck and internally within a ship. “So the R&D we’ve put in all of those programs has been very well spent,” he said. “There’s very, very good technology in the DDG-1000 program,” he concluded.

Ship crew reduction moves also might be migrated to other vessels, he said. While a typical DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer might have more than 300 in the crew, the DDG- 1000 would have about 150.