By Geoff Fein

Language in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) authorization report for fiscal year 2010 would prohibit the Navy from funding construction of any surface combatants after 2011 unless the service conducts analysis and certain tasks at the beginning of major defense acquisition programs (MDAP).

Additionally, SASC is looking at extending the life of the Navy’s fleet of frigates, a move one top Navy official said last month would not bring a good return on investment for the Navy.

“For at least the past couple of years, the Navy’s strategy for modernizing the major surface combatants in the fleet has been in upheaval,” the report says.

SASC points to several efforts including the Navy’s call for a next-generation cruiser (CG(X)) that the service said would need to begin construction over the next two to three years. Although pieces of the analysis of alternatives for CG(X) have been released, the Navy is still determining what CG(X) should look like, and has pushed the start for the cruiser out to the 2015, 2017 time frame.

The committee also notes the Navy’s plan to limit construction of the Zumwalt-class combat ships to no more than three.

“After 15 years of consistent, unequivocal support of the uniformed Navy for the fire support requirement, and for the DDG-1000 destroyer that was intended to meet that requirement (i.e., gun fire support for Marine Corps or Army forces ashore), the Navy leadership, in the middle of last year, decided that they should truncate the DDG-1000 destroyer program and buy DDG-51 destroyers instead,” the report says.

“The committee notes with no little irony that this sudden change of heart on the DDG-1000 program is at odds with its own consistent testimony that ‘stability’ in the shipbuilding programs is fundamental to controlling costs and protecting the industrial base,” the SASC added.

The Navy’s decision to stop DDG-1000 production at three ships and build three more of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers is based on a new threat analysis that stressed the need for missile defense capability, Navy officials have said.

The Navy and shipbuilders General Dynamics [GD] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] reached an agreement earlier this year calling for building all three DDG-1000s in Maine at GD’s shipbyard, and building three new DDG-51s at Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

But the plan for surface combatants beyond the 2010-2011 time frame is less well defined, and includes building only a notional future surface combatant (FSC) with requirements, capabilities, and costs to be determined, the SASC report says.

“The committee certainly believes that the services should have the ability to change course as the long-term situation dictates. However, since we are talking about the long- term and hundreds of billions of dollars of development and production costs for MDAPs, the committee believes that the Defense Department should exercise greater rigor in making sure such course corrections are made with full understanding of the alternatives and the implications of such decisions, rather than relying on inputs from a handful of individuals,” according to SASC. “The committee has only to look at the decision-making behind the major course correction in Navy shipbuilding that yielded the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to be concerned by that prospect.

“Before deciding on a course of action regarding acquisition of surface combatants after 2011, we collectively have time to perform the due diligence that should be and must be performed at the beginning of any MDAP. That is what this section will ensure,” SASC added.

Additionally, in order to deter any delaying action on conducting and completing the activities required by this section before 2011, SASC directs that the Navy Secretary obligate no more than 50 percent of the funds authorized for FY ’10 in the program line for CG(X), until the Navy submits a plan for implementing the requirements of this section to the congressional defense committees, the report adds.

SASC also called on the Navy Secretary to report on a potential service life extension program for the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. The report will include:

  • Costs and schedules for a program and shipyards capable of conducting such a program;
  • A detailed plan for achieving a 313-ship fleet;
  • The strategic plan for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to fulfill roles and missions currently performed by the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates;
  • The strategic plan for LCS if a SLEP (service life extension program) were performed on the frigates; and
  • A description of the manner in which the Navy has been meeting the needs of the United States Southern Command during the past five years.

But any plan to extend the life of the Navy’s frigates could run into problems, a service official told the SASC in mid-June.

The frigates are nearing the end of their service life and any attempt to extend them beyond that would not bring a good return on the investment for the Navy, Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources (N8), told committee members on June 16 (Defense Daily, June 17).

“Currently, decommissioning of frigates takes those ships out to the end of their estimated service life of 30 years. We have modernized those ships with the addition of reverse osmosis water distillation units, single arm boat davits and improvements or replacements of diesel electric generators,” McCullough said. “We did mid-life those ships to give them capability to get to end of their service life.”

The problem, McCullough said on June 16, is that some of the frigates are experiencing hull thinning that the service never anticipated. Additionally, all but about three of the ships the Navy currently has are critically weight limited.

“We’d be unable to add any additional capability to those ships, from a displacement standpoint,” McCullough said. “And the very few not critically weight limited are high- addition weight limited, so they’re center of gravity limited, so the ability to put other things high in the ships is very limited (Defense Daily, June 17).”

The Navy took the missile systems off the frigates because they were unique with the SM-1 Medium Range missile and didn’t adequately address the threat, McCullough added.

“Also, the SH-60B helicopters are sun-downing in 2016, 2017. These ships are not upgraded to take the MH-60R,” he said (Defense Daily, June 17).