January 17, 2005
Budget cuts may threaten destroyers
Proposal may require sacrifice of several big-ticket programs
By Chrisopher P. Cavas
Special to the Times
Proposals to cut and delay the largest U.S. surface warship program could drastically reduce the Navy’s purchase of next-generation destroyers and cruisers, said one analyst who has studied the document outlining the Pentagon’s proposed new six-year spending plan.
DD(X) funding would be cut by $2.6 billion through 2011, according to the document, Program Decision Brief 753, approved Dec. 23 by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Purchase of the first DD(X) would be delayed two years to 2009. Only one ship a year would be purchased in 2009 and 2010 — half the present plan.
“For the DD(X) [destroyer] program, it raises the possibility that we may have a very limited DD(X) production run,” said Ron O’Rourke, a naval analyst with the Congressional Research Service in Washington.
High research and development costs for the ship — around $10 billion is planned for DD(X) and its CG(X) missile-defense cruiser variant — will drive each destroyer’s price tag to $2 billion, O’Rourke said. “It might begin to raise questions about the potential cost-effectiveness of the entire effort.”
O’Rourke said such high price tags would make it unlikely that the Navy or Congress would buy more than one a year, or a large number overall.
O’Rourke suggested the Navy explore other options.
“Unless you want to be caught totally flat-footed a few years from now,” he said, the Navy should “start thinking now about conceptual designs for a smaller and less expensive alternative to the DD(X)/CG(X) design.”
Navy officials declined to comment, saying they would not discuss budget matters until the White House sends its spending plan to Congress on Feb. 7. The new destroyer is one of a number of big-ticket naval programs facing cutbacks, according to the document. Among them:
• Virginia-class SSN 774 submarines. One submarine is deleted in 2009 and 2010, with $5.3 billion in cuts through 2011. The cuts reflect years in which the Navy planned to order two submarines per year.
• San Antonio-class LPD 17 amphibious ships. The tenth ship in the program — to be ordered in 2008 — is cut, along with $953 million through 2011. That could cap the total LPD 17-class buy at nine ships, assuming the ninth appears as expected in the 2006 budget request.
• Osprey V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. Twenty-two Ospreys are deleted from 2006 through 2009, along with $1.3 billion.
• Hercules KC-130J airlifters. While eight aircraft planned for the Marine Corps are kept in the 2006 budget, the document cuts the 20 planes to be bought from 2007 to 2011 and deletes $1.5 billion from those years.
Although most of the cuts affect future programs, one major current asset is targeted: a single “conventionally powered aircraft carrier” is to be retired in fiscal 2006, resulting in an 11-carrier fleet.
The move was forecast in late December when a group of Florida politicians announced they’d been contacted Dec. 23 by Navy Secretary Gordon England with the news of a potential carrier cut. One of the Navy’s two non-nuclear carriers, John F. Kennedy, is based at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Fla. The other is the Japan-based Kitty Hawk.
The Kennedy is widely viewed as the targeted ship.
The Florida legislators rapidly organized their opposition to the proposal. At a Jan. 5 news conference in Washington, Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Mel Martinez, R-Fla., and Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., announced their intention to simultaneously introduce legislation in the House and Senate to hold the Navy to a force of 12 aircraft carriers.
“I think this is wrong-headed,” Crenshaw said of the proposed carrier cut, adding that there is a large difference in delaying or cutting future ship and aircraft buys and cutting an existing ship.
“It’s irreversible. You turn out the light and boom, it’s gone,” he said. “The leadership of the Pentagon is really making a shortsighted, short-term solution that’s driven by budgetary woes and not driven by the long-term interest of our national security.”
The budget document points to a potential savings of $1.2 billion through fiscal 2011 from cutting the carrier. Some $863 million would be saved in personnel costs over that period, plus another $335.5 million in operations and maintenance funds, for a total of $2.4 billion. It’s unclear how those personnel costs are quantified, given that not all Kennedy sailors would retire along with the ship.
Crenshaw noted the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review confirmed a need for 12 aircraft carriers. Another review is taking place this year, to be presented to Congress by Sept. 30.
“If any decision is to be made, it ought to made in the QDR,” he said, adding that he remains hopeful that the verdict on the carrier cut isn’t final. “I hope it’s not a done deal.”
To compensate for the depleted submarine construction program, the document directs the Navy “to design a future undersea superiority system alternative … that includes considerations of new propulsion systems.”
Tacked on with a directive to further develop “joint undersea dominance” concepts, the document would add $600 million from 2006 through 2011 for undersea superiority.
Out with the old in with the new.
Light, mobile and unmanned.
Evolution is great!