Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Revised U.S. Fleet Plan Extends Some Ships to 70 Years

he U.S. Navy's two command ships, each about 40 years old, are busy vessels. The Japan-based Blue Ridge, flagship of the U.S. Seventh Fleet, recently completed a cruise around the Far East and supported relief operations in Japan. The Mount Whitney, flagship of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean, served as a headquarters ship for the initial coalition strikes in March against Libya.
The U.S. 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge, left, and the guided-missile destroyer Stethem sail the Pacific. The Blue Ridge will serve until 2039 according to the Navy's 30-year shipbuilding plan. (MCS 3rd Class Brian A. Ston / U.S. Navy)
The ships are at a stage in their service lives where the Navy normally might be expected to plan for replacements. But in a recent update to the 30-year shipbuilding plans, the ships have been extended to serve another 28 years - until 2039.
That would mean the Blue Ridge, launched in January 1969, will have spent more than 70 years in the water. The Mount Whitney is one year younger.
A notional replacement ship, dubbed LCC(X) - or sometimes JCC(X), where the "J" stood for "Joint" - has faded in and out of several previous 30-year plans. The ships were always dropped for affordability reasons. The Navy then planned for the current ships to remain in service until 2029, and now has extended that deadline.
The 70-year planned service life might be a new record for an active Navy ship. Aircraft carriers are intended to serve for 50 years, and most surface combatants such as cruisers and destroyers are planned for 30-, 35- or 40-year lives. Only the sail frigate Constitution, a museum ship in Boston that was launched in 1797, has been in service longer, and she was never expected to last this long.
The revised command ship schedule is contained in an updated version of the Navy's 30-year plan sent to Congress in mid-May. The updates consist of several tables and a cover letter, and lack the explanations and written information provided in the full plan. Copies of some of the tables were acquired by Defense News.
Starting in 2011, the Navy is no longer required to submit a full plan each year to Congress, but rather is to tie the document to the Quadrennial Defense Review, a strategy document issued ever four years that outlines the requirements for U.S. military forces. Some in Congress, including Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., would rather return to annual filing requirements. Wittman, chairman of the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing on the matter for June 1.
No major changes are in the new fleet plan, but some of the tweaks include:
■ As expected, a DDG 51-class Flight IIA destroyer was added in 2014, raising the number from one to two ships to be ordered. The Navy has previously discussed this addition, which is based on a multiyear procurement plan starting in 2013.
■ A fourth littoral combat ship (LCS) has been added to 2012, as reflected in the 2012 budget request.
■ Purchases of the T-AO fleet oilers have been brought forward to 2014 - also previously announced.
■ An extra T-AGOS ocean surveillance ship has been added in 2013.
■ One Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) has been eliminated in 2016, going from two to one.
■ The plan still reflects a Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) ship in 2013, but that ship will be eliminated, as called for in the 2011 defense budget finally passed in early May. The Navy intends to buy three MLPs, the third of which is in the 2012 budget request.
■ In the outyears, the Navy cut an LSD(X) landing ship dock replacement ship from 2039 and now plans to build 11 of the ships.
■ The first LPD(X) amphibious transport dock replacement is set for 2040.
■ A big-deck assault ship is planned for 2041.
■ The buys for LCS replacement ships in the 2030s have been beefed up, with three instead of two ships per year now scheduled for 2036 through 2041.
■ A new surface combatant, previously designated DDG(X), has become the DDG 51 Flight IV, scheduled to begin in 2032 with two ships per year through 2041, except for three ships in 2036. The move means the basic DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class design, first procured in 1985, will be bought continuously for at least 56 years.
The plan does not address shortfalls in major surface combatants - cruisers and destroyers - or in attack submarines.
With all ships accounted for, the revised plan shows the Navy purchasing 270 ships from 2012 through 2041, plus another five JHSVs using Army funds.

Al-Qaida Plotted to Kill Lockheed Martin Chief: Testimony

CHICAGO - A Pakistini-based branch of al-Qaida was hatching a plot to kill the head of U.S. defense group Lockheed Martin, self-confessed terrorist David Coleman Headley testified in a U.S. court Tuesday.
In this courtroom drawing, David Coleman Headley faces U.S. District Court Judge Harry Leinenweber on March 18 in Chicago. (Carol Renaud / AFP via Getty Images)
"There was a plan to kill him because he was making drones," Headley testified during the Chicago trial of his childhood friend, Tahawwur Hussain Rana.
Headley pleaded guilty to 12 terrorism charges related to the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks and other unrealized plots in the wake of his 2009 arrest in Chicago.
He is testifying against alleged co-conspirator Rana in exchange for avoiding the death penalty and extradition to India, Pakistan or Denmark.
Headley testified that he secretly used Rana's office computer for research on the plot to assassinate the Lockheed Martin executive but dismissed his brief online search there as insignificant.
"My research is more in-depth than Googling someone a couple of times," he testified during cross-examination by Rana's defense attorney.
Headley said he was working on the plot with Ilyas Kashmiri, the commander of the Pakistani-based terrorist organization Harakat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HUJI), and a senior member of al-Qaida.
Headley pleaded guilty to working with Kashmiri on a plot to attack the Danish newspaper Jyllen Posten, which published controversial cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, after Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) got distracted with the Mumbai plot.
Rana is accused of providing Headley with a cover and acting as a messenger, with prosecutors alleging he played a behind-the-scenes logistical role in both the Mumbai attacks and another abortive plan to strike Copenhagen.
Rana, a Canadian-Pakistani and Chicago businessman, has denied all charges, and his defense attorneys argue that he was duped by his friend, whom he had met in military school.

Gates To Reassure Asian Allies on Military Ties

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to reassure anxious allies in Asia this week that the U.S. military will maintain a strong presence in the region despite budget pressures at home, officials said.
The Pentagon chief will address the allies' concerns "head on" at a security conference this week in Singapore, said a senior defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
As Washington moves to tackle a ballooning deficit and debt, Asian allies fear a scaling back of the U.S. military's role just as China's armed forces take a more assertive stance, defense officials said.
"There's no doubt that the region has that concern, and I think it's one that we're well aware of, and hence it's one the secretary will want to address," the official told reporters.
Gates, who departs May 31 on his global tour, will seek "to assure the region that we will maintain our commitments in the region and that we have both the capability in addition to the will to do so," the official said.
In a speech in Singapore, Gates is "going to talk in greater detail than in the past about what we in DoD (Department of Defense) are doing to make that more tangible, specifically in terms of U.S. presence in the region," the official said.
Gates will stress that the United States is "not distracted" from defense issues in Asia despite crises elsewhere in the world, the official said.
In his last international trip as defense secretary before he steps down at the end of June, Gates will use the speech at the security summit in Singapore to discuss U.S. policy on Asia and the underlying principles that guide it, officials said.
After arriving June 2 in Singapore following a stop in Hawaii, Gates plans to meet with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, to try "to build on the positive momentum that exists in the military-to-military relationship right now," a second official said.
Last year's conference in Singapore was marked by sharp exchanges between Gates and senior Chinese generals, who said U.S. arms sales to Taiwan remained a serious obstacle to building a security dialogue between the two countries.
But officials have cited positive signs more recently, with Gates having traveled to China in January and the People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde making a week-long U.S. visit earlier this month.
During his U.S. tour, Chen struck a mostly conciliatory tone and said his country had no plans to take on the American military in the Pacific.
In his talks with Liang in Singapore, Gates hopes to renew his proposal for a civilian-military dialogue that would address "sensitive security issues," including nuclear weapons, missile defense and cyber warfare, officials said. The Chinese have yet to agree to the idea.
The United States has also disagreed with Beijing over the South China Sea, saying it has a right to sail U.S. naval ships in the area and backing calls from smaller countries for a diplomatic arrangement to settle territorial disputes.
The Spratlys, a reputedly oil-rich South China Sea island chain, is claimed in whole or in part by China as well as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.
At the Asia security conference, Gates plans to meet his counterparts from Japan, Australia, Thailand and Singapore as well as Malaysia's prime minister, officials said.
After Singapore, Gates was due to attend a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, where the air campaign in Libya and the war in Afghanistan are expected to dominate the agenda.

Major Cyber Attack Is Act of War: Pentagon Report

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has adopted a new strategy that will classify major cyber attacks as acts of war, paving the way for possible military retaliation, the Wall Street Journal reported on May 31.
The newspaper said the Pentagon plans to unveil its first-ever strategy regarding cyber warfare next month, in part as a warning to foes that may try to sabotage the country's electricity grid, subways or pipelines.
"If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks," it quoted a military official as saying.
The newspaper, citing three officials who had seen the document, said the strategy would maintain that the existing international rules of armed conflict - embodied in treaties and customs - would apply in cyberspace.
It said the Pentagon would likely decide whether to respond militarily to cyber attacks based on the notion of "equivalence" - whether the attack was comparable in damage to a conventional military strike.
Such a decision would also depend on whether the precise source of the attack could be determined.
The decision to formalize the rules of cyber war comes after the Stuxnet attack last year ravaged Iran's nuclear program. That attack was blamed on the United States and Israel, both of which declined to comment on it.
It also follows a major cyber attack on the U.S. military in 2008 that served as a wake-up call and prompted major changes in how the Pentagon handles digital threats, including the formation of a new cyber military command.
Over the weekend, Lockheed Martin, one of the world's largest defense contractors, said it was investigating the source of a "significant and tenacious" cyber attack against its information network one week ago.
President Barack Obama was briefed about the attack.