By Emelie Rutherford

The head of a naval panel in Congress said yesterday in an interview he is pleased Defense Secretary Robert Gates wants to end the DDG-1000 destroyer line, and predicted lawmakers will take another look at Gates’ proposal to delay an amphibious ship.

House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) told Defense Daily that while Gates’ plan for the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 destroyers is not exactly what he sought, he is generally welcoming of the proposal that endorses the end of the more-advanced-destroyer’s production.

Gates said Monday he is proposing a plan to the White House for the Navy to build all three DDG-1000 destroyers at General Dynamics‘ [GD] Bath Iron Works (BIW) in Maine and restart production in fiscal year 2010 of the older and cheaper DDG-51 combatants at Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. The shipbuilders share both programs and Gates said the plan will fail without their support.

Taylor was a vocal proponent of the Navy’s proposal last July to truncate the DDG-1000 line at two ships and buy more DDG-51s; lawmakers, though, appropriated partial funding for a third ship in FY ’09.

“The good news is it at least stops at three and we go back to building the world’s best warship, which is the (DDG-)51,” Taylor said about Gates’ plan.

“I would’ve preferred that he stopped it at two, but at least he’s stopping it at three,” Taylor added. “And he’s making the call saying it stops at three, so in my book that makes it a certainty.”

Gates announced on Monday his recommendations to the White House for the FY ’10 defense budget, which starts Oct. 1. He told reporters at the Pentagon if the destroyer talks with industry are unsuccessful, the Pentagon “will likely build only a single prototype DDG-1000 at Bath and then review our options for restarting production of the DDG-51;” the defense secretary said that alternative would “reduce our overall procurement of ships and cut workload in both shipyards.”

The Navy has been in talks with Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics regarding workload levels under the new combatant plan, Taylor said. The Ingalls shipyard is in his district.

“Quite honestly, I think Northrop got the better end of the deal, because we’re going to be building (DDG-)51s for a lot longer than we’re going to be building (DDG-)1000s,” the congressman said.

“I think guy who really got his way on this was (Chief of Naval Operations) Adm. (Gary) Roughead,” Taylor added, because he said the idea to not build all seven previously planned DDG-1000s started with Roughead.

“I would guess he’s more like me in that he would prefer it stopped at two,” Taylor said, “but it’s still a hard stop at three, with the understanding that–his suggestion– that we go back to making the more affordable, the more capable (DDG)-51, and above all the one that can be modified the most successfully to counter these new ballistic-missile threats.”

Under Gates’ plan, Bath would build DDG-51s after it completes the three DDG-1000s.

“I think Northrop made the wise decision,” Taylor said.

Gates also proposed delaying an 11th Northrop Grumman-built Landing Platform Dock (LPD17) amphibious ship for the Marine Corps to assess costs and analyze need.

Congress partially funded a 10th LPD-17 in FY ’09, and Taylor expects the remaining funding to come in FY ’10.

“That (10th ship) is going to keep the yard busy for a while,” Taylor said. “Of course, I would have preferred to put in some forward-funding on (11th ship). And that might still be an option, we’ve got to look and see how our budget works out.”

He noted the Navy is looking at using the LPD-17 hull for other ships. Taylor said problems with the ship program have been corrected.

The HASC Seapower chairman said Gates’ proposal to buy three instead of two Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) in FY ’10 does not change his own plan for the ship program. Taylor wants to put a price for the LCSs in the FY ’10 defense authorization bill, and if the two LCS builders–Lockheed Martin [LMT] and General Dynamics– can’t agree to that cost limit he wants the Navy to prepare ship plans for other companies to compete the build the LCSs.

Gates called for delaying the Navy’s CG(X) next-generation cruiser program, in order to revisit the requirements and acquisition strategy.

Taylor, who helped create a requirement that that future ship be nuclear powered, said he wants the Navy “to have a very good idea of what that ship should look like before they get started.”

“We don’t want to repeat the mistakes that were made with LCS, with the DD-1000 by trying to build a ship when the plans aren’t complete,” the congressman said.

Gates also recommend terminating both increments of Lockheed Martin’s troubled VH-71 presidential helicopter effort and developing a new program.

Taylor said if Gates called for keeping all or part of the current VH-71 program, President Obama would be criticized for buying a helicopter during tough economic times and from an industry team including a foreign firm.

“So at least that argument doesn’t get said for a year or so,” Taylor said. “(Obama is) the one who’s going to ride in it, not me. If he is comfortable with the helicopters he has now and thinks he can get a few more years out of them, then so be it.”

Lawmakers have not seen the details behind Gates’ budget request.

“The devil will be in the details,” Taylor said. His subcommittee and the full House Armed Services Committee, he said, “are going to try to improve on some of those things and we’re going to accept some of those things” Gates suggested.