US Navy’s 313-Ship Plan Under Fire in Congress
The US Navy’s 313-ship fleet plan has been in question for some time; indeed, the Pentagon Office of Force Transformation was projecting a possible 40% budgetary shortfall through 2022 when it released its “Alternative Fleet Architecture Design study [PDF format, see also related CRS report]” in 2005. Rising costs in several key naval programs, and budget realities, have sharpened those questions. During a recent House Armed Services Seapower & Expeditionary Forces subcommittee hearing, the Navy found itself under fire from both sides of the political aisle, up to and including public and pointed expressions of disbelief in the Navy’s shipbuilding plan.
Rankling minority member Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD]:
“From Fiscal Years 2008 to 2009, the Navy has reduced the number of ships to be procured by approximately 25 percent – one quarter of the ships the Navy planned to build last year are gone. The long term shipbuilding plan still speaks to a 313-ship Navy, as does the Chief of Naval Operations, but it’s time we started facing facts. The Navy will never get there without either top line relief or a significant change in the mix of platforms. The Navy’s shipbuilding plan is based on the assumption that over the next thirty years the shipbuilding account will nearly triple in size. Do our witnesses really think this is realistic? How can you? If it’s not – and I tell you it’s not – then the only other alternative is to look at the mix of platforms.”
Subcommittee chair Rep. Gene Taylor [D-MS] was even sharper in his criticisms:
“By the time this President leaves office the Navy will have about 60 ships less than when he started… The current shipbuilding plan for the 313 ship fleet is pure fantasy. It is totally unaffordable with the resources the Department of Defense allocates to the Navy for ship construction. This year in the Annual Long Range Report to Congress on Shipbuilding, the Navy essentially admits it does not have the funding to build the ships it requires in the ‘far term’ which is defined as after 2020. The Navy also increased projections of the ‘near term’ shipbuilding costs from $13.4 billion dollars per year to $15.8 billion dollars per year (using constant 2007 dollars). These projections were forecast by Dr. Labs from the Congressional Budget Office last year, to the Navy’s adamant denial… there is nothing stable in this shipbuilding plan.”
On the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyer” program:
“We are also asked to continue to fund a class of seven destroyers that are the most expensive surface warships ever built. I understand that the program manager has gone to great lengths to ensure that mistakes that occurred in the LCS program are not repeated in the DDG 1000 program. That is good. However, this ship is on an order of complexity which is orders of magnitude greater than the LCS. A cost overrun of only 10% for the first two ships, which would be excellent for a first in ship class, is still close to $700 million dollars. With all the new technologies that must work for this ship to sail, a cost overrun of 20% or even 30% is not out of the question.”
Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] is also uncomfortable, and refers to the DDG-1000, as he often has, using the term “technology demonstrator”:
“For example, is it wise to buy destroyers that at best will cost $3 billion a copy, and more likely $5 billion a piece if the Congressional Budget Office is right, while we shut down stable, more affordable production lines, such as the DDG-51 line? How much risk are you buying down with only seven DDG 1000s, at a cost of $21 – $35 billion, when you could likely have at least 14, upgraded DDG-51s for that same amount? And how much risk are we buying down if we procure two more Littoral Combat Ships, the year after we canceled two, and the year in which the Navy plans to conduct an operational evaluation and possible downselect of LCS-1 and 2? Even if there is no downselect, the Navy has stated that there will be design changes made to the Flight One ships. So the two we buy now will be different than the remaining 50. Is that worth it, if those funds could keep a stable program like LPD-17 alive?”
Rep. Taylor adds a warning to the Navy concerning the CV (X) next-generation cruiser. Preliminary design studies and Analysis of Alternatives are currently underway in the Navy believe the proposal to include a nuclear power plant may present technical and expense difficulties, but Rep. Taylor shares Rep. Bartlett’s belief in the “Peak Oil” hypothesis and its effects on the US military’s future vulnerabilities and costs of operation:
“And last, I am very concerned that the Navy is not taking seriously the law that Congress enacted last year concerning the next generation cruiser. The law mandates the cruiser have an integrated nuclear power system, and it will have. Analysis of alternatives notwithstanding, I expect that the Navy will abide by the law. I understand that the planned start date of fiscal year 2011 may have to slip due to radar design, among other issues. But the issue is not the power plant. That plant is designed and ready to be built and installed in a hull form resembling our current surface combatant vessels.”
That platform is the next-generation CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford Class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. There, Rep. Taylor’s attention is drawn to EMALS, one of the technologies identified as a key to the program’s expected cost savings and success:
“Another very risky program is the new aircraft carrier. Not that the Navy and Newport News Shipyard don’t know how to build aircraft carriers, they do. However, one of the major new technologies, the electro-magnetic launch system, or EMALS, has not even been tested in a shipboard configuration and the ship is already under construction. Just this last week the Navy requested an additional $40 million dollars for continued development of EMALS because, and I quote, ‘the contractor underestimated design and production cost.’
The cynic in me would say the contractor purposefully low-balled the bid to get the contract knowing full well the Navy would be forced to pay whatever the true costs of the system turned out to be. Perhaps we should have built another Nimitz class carrier until the research and design for EMALS was complete.”
Finally, Rep. Taylor comments on the T-AKE program for replenishment ships:
“Although I put the T-AKE in the list of programs which are healthy, I would like our witnesses to address why the T-AKE [ship] that was requested and funded in fiscal year 2008 is not being put on contract. The subcommittee understands that the money that was requested to purchase a ship was instead used to re-negotiate contract terms. I understand the Navy thinks they can do this because the money is in a working capital fund called the National Defense Sealift Fund or NDSF.
I assure you that it is not the intent of the Congress that money authorized and appropriated for a specific purpose, in this case the procurement of a ship, would be used for any other purpose without further authorization or reprogramming.”
The rest of the day’s testimony, including that of Navy and expert witnesses, can be heard or read below.
US House Armed Services Committee (March 14/08) – The Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee will meet to hear testimony on the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Navy Shipbuilding.
- Audio: Part 1 | Part 2 [Windows Media]
- Subcommittee Chair Gene Taylor [D-MS], opening address
- The Honorable Allison Stiller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Ship Programs [PDF]
- Vice Admiral Barry McCullough, USN, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, Resources and Requirements (N8)
- Dr. Eric Labs, Senior Naval Analyst Congressional Budget Office [PDF]
- Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in National Defense, Congressional Research Service [PDF]
- Information Dissemination (Jan 14/08) – Sun Sets on 313-Ship Plan, Downward Spiral For Shipbuilding Begins in FY09. Includes tables and breakdowns.
- DID (June 1/06) – Why Are US Shipbuilding Costs Rising?
- DID (March 12/06) – The Lion in Winter: Government, Industry, and US Naval Shipbuilding Challenges. Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter’s address to the annual meeting of the Navy League.