By Emelie Rutherford

The Navy has shifted course and now wants to buy a DDG-1000 in fiscal year 2009, though the service hopes to stop purchasing the destroyer after that third ship and continue with the controversial plan it unveiled last month to restart production of the older DDG-51s.

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Navy Secretary Donald Winter revealed plans for the third DDG-1000 in letters sent Monday to a series of lawmakers, including those critical of the Navy’s proposal to stop the DDG-1000 buy at the two ships on contract.

The FY ’09 budget request the White House sent Congress in February requests $2.55 billion for a third DDG-1000, though the Navy last month revealed it no longer wanted that ship and was seeking the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) approval to buy eight more DDG-51 destroyers starting in FY ’10. Navy officials told House members at a July 31 congressional hearing that they also wanted funds in FY ’09 for an additional, ninth, DDG-51.

Those plans have changed.

"The Navy has been directed to ensure that its proposed plan will complete construction of the DDG 1000 ships currently under contract and conform to the President’s FY 2009 budget submission be executing the third DDG 1000," England writes in an Aug. 18 letter to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), perhaps the most outspoken critic in Congress of truncating the DDG-1000 buy at two ships.

This plan will, among other things, "provide stability of the industrial base," England states in the letter to Collins, which matches missives sent to lawmakers including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The DDG-1000s and DDG-51 programs are shared by General Dynamics’ [GD] Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine and Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. New England lawmakers concerned about impacted jobs at Massachusetts-based Raytheon [RTN] if the DDG-1000 line is stopped have been particularly outspoken in their opposition to the shipbuilding shift the Navy unveiled in July.

Observers see the Navy’s latest plan to now seek the third DDG-1000 as a reaction to pressure from angry lawmakers.

Collins was one of 12 senators who sent a July 24 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates decrying the Navy’s proposed shipbuilding changes and warning Congress could hold up funding for surface combatants in FY ’09.

England’s Aug. 18 letter to Collins references that July 24 letter–which also was signed by Kennedy and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Jim Webb (D-Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), and Norm Coleman (R- Minn.).

England also says in his Aug. 18 letter that the Navy has the Pentagon’s approval to reprogram funds in FY ’09 to support "additional DDG 51 spare assets" and "related planning activities." That reprogramming request cannot be submitted until after Congress approves the Pentagon’s budget for FY ’09, which starts Oct. 1.

This forthcoming reprogramming "will provide the dual benefits of buying spares at an economical price while also protecting future options for restarting DDG 51 production," England writes.

The Navy still wants OSD to approve its new plan to stop buying the DDG-1000s and purchase eight more DDG-51s starting in FY ’10, as spelled out in the sea service’s FY ’10 Program Objective Memorandum (POM) multiyear budget request.

"The POM ’10 plan is still in place," Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss said yesterday.

The Navy is simply going back to supporting its original budget request for a third DDG-1000 in FY ’09, he said.

As the Defense Department develops its POM ’10 and weighs the Navy’s request to restart DDG-51 production, it will assess "existing and evolving threats," including "defense against missile threats and the challenging requirement to operate in littoral environments," England writes in his Aug. 18 letter.

Navy officials told lawmakers last month that their plan to stop buying DDG-1000 destroyers in favor of older DDG-51 combattants resulted partly from a threat assessment showing a need for combating foes who have improved blue-water capabilities and ballistic missiles, for which they said the DDG-51 is better suited. Members of Congress who support buying more DDG-51s point to their lower cost.

Lawmakers have been split on how to handle the destroyer plan the Navy unveiled last month, with some calling for giving the Navy no money in FY ’09 for DDG-51s, and some supporting providing advanced-procurement funds in FY ’09 to begin restarting the production line. Some in Congress have still supported giving the Navy the $2.55 billion it previously sought to buy one DDG-1000 in FY ’09, even when they thought the service didn’t want that ship (Defense Daily, July 31).