The general state of the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding programs is good, two senior service officials claimed, and construction programs apparently will not be slashed to meet an expected Pentagon-wide $263 billion reduction in spending.
THE U.S. NAVY'S top acquisition official said Jan. 12 that shipbuilding remains a “priority.” The new littoral combat ship Coronado (LCS 4) is shown Jan. 9 just before being launched. (U.S. Navy photo via Austal USA)
"We've placed a priority on shipbuilding," Sean Stackley, the Navy's top acquisition official, told reporters Jan. 12. "You can see a lot of alignment between the defense strategy and what the Navy does."
The Obama administration's fiscal 2013 budget request, scheduled to be sent Feb. 6 to Congress, will show "various impacts," Stackley said, "but we've been careful to hold to the core capabilities we need in our shipbuilding program. It's not just platforms, it's the capability we need in terms of weapon systems to be able to meet the defense strategy."
Speaking at the Surface Navy Association's symposium in Washington, Stackley commented on the progress of the Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), a program to develop a primary sensor to go with the Aegis weapon system. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are competing under-development contracts for the radar, which will be installed on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers beginning with those bought in 2016.
A downselect on the AMDR is expected to take place later this year.
"The AMDR program is going great. And I'm not blowing smoke," Stackley adamantly declared.
"I spent a very concerted couple-week period this past fall, because I've got to see for myself. So I went up to Raytheon, I went to Lockheed Martin, I went to Northrop Grumman.
"I spent a day at each going through not just the data, but looking at the hardware, sitting down and talking with the engineers individually. Getting as much information as I could to corroborate what I'm seeing inside the Navy.
"That program is going very well."
He noted that the AMDR effort is building on existing technology.
"The maturity of the technology is far beyond where folks in the building believed it could be. And the costs that we are seeing are much better than we had estimated just a couple of years ago," he said.
"And the performance - we're at the upper end of the estimated performance range. I'm bullish on AMDR."
With the AMDR installed, the new destroyers will become Flight III of the Arleigh Burke class, supplanting current Flight IIA ships.
Stackley reminded a lunch audience that the Navy would seek a multiyear procurement (MYP) in the new budget for destroyers from 2013 through 2017. Congressional MYP authorization, however, is normally based on design maturity and consistency.
Navy Undersecretary Bob Work, speaking with reporters at the symposium, explained that, for a brief time, the service plans to order both Flight IIAs and IIIs.
"There's an overlap date between the IIAs and the Flight IIIs," he said, with another block buy planned separately for the AMDR ships.
Details will arrive on Jan. 26, when DoD officials preview the 2013 budget request.
7 CRUISERS TO BE CUT?
Earlier, Work, speaking to a symposium audience, laid out the capabilities of the fleet being built through 2022 - and might have inadvertently let slip one of the secret numbers about future ship cuts.
"We're going to wind up with 72 Burkes, and 15 - uh excuse me, I'm not going to tell you any numbers. Rewind the tape," he said, to sympathetic laughter from the professional audience.
The Burke number would reflect the total number of Flight I, II and IIA ships, but the Navy currently operates 22 Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers. Speculation has been rampant that some of the cruisers, which range in age from 25 years old to 17, might be decommissioned in line with budget reductions. No officials have commented for the record, but most guesses range between six and nine ships.
Work may have let slip that seven Ticos will be put down early.
But he also exuberantly extolled the virtues of the forces the Navy will have in the future.
"Everyone focuses in on: it's going to be 313 ships, 310," he said. "What the hell do we care? I have BAMS," the Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft based on the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
"Those numbers don't care," Work said. "How many ships would it take to provide the same maritime domain awareness as those BAMS? It's a lot bigger than a [Reagan-era] 600-ship Navy, I guarantee you that."
With the new fleet, "we span the globe. We can concentrate because we can get there in a hurry on 35 knots on the JHSV [Joint High Speed Vessel], 40-plus knots on the LCS [Littoral Combat Ship]. Yeah, it burns a lot of fuel," he said, referring to the LCS. "Yeah, we have refuelers. We get there quickly. We can configure for what we need. We have enormous payload capacity in our big boys.
"This is a different fleet. This is a more powerful fleet. I will take this fleet over a 600-ship Navy … in a heartbeat," Work said, his voice booming.
"One thing I would regret, quite frankly, is I would rather have 100 SSNs [nuclear-propelled attack submarines]. But in almost every other case, I'll take this," he said."
"And if you aren't excited" about the new fleet, he concluded, "you don't have a pulse."