Warning: Updating US Fleet Is Pricey




 
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January 15th, 2008  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: Warning: Updating US Fleet Is Pricey


Boston Globe
January 15, 2008 Top admiral sees need for controls
By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
The US Navy's top officer has warned that the skyrocketing costs of designing and building cutting-edge warships - a problem that has plagued some shipbuilding programs in recent years - could hamper the service's ability to obtain the fleet it needs to defend American interests as well as deter China and other rising naval powers.
Admiral Gary Roughead, who took over as chief of naval operations in September, said in a recent interview that the Navy should expand its fleet from 280 ships to 316 in the coming decades.
But Roughead also warned that such an expansion and the economic boost to New England that would accompany it face major obstacles: the Navy's tendency to pack more technologies into its new ships than it absolutely needs, and the tendency of the nation's business-hungry shipyards to take advantage of it when going after lucrative government contracts.
"Ships are not inexpensive things," Roughead told Globe reporters and editors last week during his tour of the region's shipyards, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works in Maine. "We have to do all we can to make sure we are setting the requirements right - that we are not just putting things on that we want - [and] that we monitor the cost and construction in such a way that we don't lose control over that cost and we are able to deliver the ships to the country."
One recent example is the Zumwalt-class destroyer program, a next-generation ship being managed by Waltham-based defense giant Raytheon and being built by Bath Iron Works. Because the ship is based on the most advanced technology available, the Navy now estimates that each Zumwalt destroyer will cost more than $3 billion, well over earlier estimates of $2 billion per ship.
Several years ago, the Navy had planned to purchase at least 30 of the warships but the high cost has led the Pentagon to reduce the order to just seven.
Roughead told the Globe his visit to the New England shipyards was intended "to be able to get a sense of their infrastructure and the programs they have under construction for us and better inform myself as to the status of our shipbuilding programs."
Meanwhile, the Navy will have to determine the kind of vessel it needs to fill in the gaps it had expected to fill with a larger number of Zumwalt destroyers, he said.
Roughead said the service is studying the possibility of designing a new cruiser, known as the CG(X), that could use many of the same technologies developed for the Zumwalt with the hope that doing so will "mitigate the risk" of building the new warship. But figuring out ways to keep construction and operating costs down is considered paramount, he said.
For example, dramatically rising oil prices recently led some members of Congress to call for building only warships that are nuclear powered, like American aircraft carriers and submarines.
 


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