Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told several lawmakers on Friday that he appreciates the money they provided for an extra LPD amphibious transport dock but could not promise them the service would actually spend the money as intended and get a ship on contract any time soon.
The four congressional defense committees provided varying levels of funding for the ship–as much as $800 million–in the fiscal year 2015 authorization and appropriations bills.
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.), who represents the Ingalls Shipbuilding [HII] yard where the LPD-28 would be built, said during a House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee hearing that “it’s absolutely clear the intent is that Congress wants the 12th ship in the LPD 17 class. I think it’s extremely important as well that the commandant has expressed a huge amount of interest, calling these ships the Swiss army knives of the fleet.”
Still, Stackley said during the hearing that Congress has thus far provided only half of the approximately $2 billion the ship would cost, and while the Navy and Marine Corps “greatly appreciate the intent,” he is still well short of the full funding needed.
“We are still a billion-plus short of the funding requirements,” Stackley told the subcommittee. “And that billion-plus has to enter into a budget process where we’ve got other bills that are frankly higher priority,” such as refueling the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN-73). Further complicating the situation, sequestration is still looming as the Navy begins to craft is FY ’16 budget request.
“So I can’t look at you today and give you a sense of confidence that the Navy is going to be able to budget that additional billion-plus” in FY ’16, he said. “Absent that full funding, not necessarily in one year but using the incremental authority, we can’t move forward in terms of contracting for a ship. We’ve got to show the funding in the budget, so that’s the paradox we’ve got today.”
Stackley explained after the hearing that if he awarded a contract for LPD-28 without the rest of the funding put into the Navy’s Future Years Defense Program, he would be breaking anti-deficiency laws, as well as congressional appropriations policies.
That said, Stackley acknowledged there is a lot of money set aside for the ship, and he said he would ideally like to see that used to study affordable ship designs for several upcoming classes of amphibious ships.
“We have a lot of money locked up for potentially an LPD-28, and the issues that stand between us and an LPD-28 and an [amphibious assault ship] LHA-8 and an LX(R) [dock landing ship replacement] are affordability,” Stackley said. “We need to invest in affordable designs, and we have this money sitting here. If we could tap into that to work with the industrial design base to go after these concepts to figure out how can we take cost off without having to trade away capability in the process, then that would be helpful to our timelines and ultimately helpful to our ability to program and eventually deliver these ships.”
He noted he cannot repurpose the funding without Congress’s permission, which, given the high support for funding an additional LPD, would be challenging for Stackley to secure.
The Navy has begun working to lower the cost of the LHA-8 design, which will differ from the first two in the class of big-deck amphibs in that it will have the well deck that was taken out of LHA-6 and 7. Stackley said the Navy understands the requirements and knows how to build a ship with a well deck, but “we’ve also brought in industry into this early stage in design to help us go from defining the requirements to constructing what we could call a contract design,” which is the design the shipyards will bid on. Both potential contractors are working with the Navy to discuss the feasibility of the design and to insert cost-saving ideas.
“We think we have it about right in terms of stable, realistic requirements, leveraging a mature prior class design–the LHD class–and then bringing industry in early before we push out the contract design for competition,” Stackley said.
Cost is still an issue for LX(R), though. Stackley said the Navy and Marine Corps are now on their third pass at the analysis of alternatives, which is attempting to whittle down a range of options of clean sheet designs, foreign designs that would partner the overseas design owner with U.S. shipyards and industry, and a modified version of the LPD-17.
Stackley said the chief of naval operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps are both personally involved, but so far they have not arrived at an acceptable balance of cost and capability. Industry has joined the dialogue, he said, which has already yielded some results. Stackley said he hoped to wrap up the AoA in 2015 and pass the results up through the Defense Department before beginning the contracting process.