- - Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Navy’s force projection and assured nuclear strategic capability are keys to our retaining U.S. pre-eminence as a world leader. Our Navy, however, will face increasing threats, especially from China, which has deployed anti-ship ballistic missiles, sophisticated nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines, and fifth-generation stealthy aircraft, which are clearly targeted against our naval forces. Our ships will require a broad spectrum of defensive and offensive capabilities in order to carry out their mission.

The Department of Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council identified simultaneous defense, ballistic and anti-ship cruise missiles as a “capability gap.” In 2006, the council validated that Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) was an operation requirement not sufficiently addressed. Developing an effective IAMD capability for the Navy’s surface combatant ships is essential in order to preserve the Navy’s most important role in the Joint Force - that of guaranteeing “forcible entry” capability anywhere in the world.

To provide the necessary capability to counter the changing threat environment, the Navy is in the early stages of a shipbuilding program that will determine the character and future capabilities as well as the size of the Navy for the next 50 to 60 years. It is critical that the Navy’s future shipbuilding plans provide the most capable force given current fiscal constraints.

After a 12-month effort, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued in January its study on the Navy’s shipbuilding plan. The study was the result of a decision by the Navy to restart production of the 30-year-old Arleigh Burke destroyers (DDG-51) and also build a new version known as Flight III instead of building stealthy Zumwalt class (DDG-1000) destroyers for which it had already expended $10 billion to 12 billion in research and development funds.


In short, the GAO study raised several serious questions about the creditability of the Navy’s radar/hull study, which provided the justification for the Navy’s selection of the DDG-51 hull form for the future Navy’s surface combatants. The Navy plans to procure up to 43 destroyers at a cost of at least $80 billion.

The GAO found it questionable that the Navy’s radar/hull study provides a sufficient analytical basis for a decision of this magnitude. For example, the study assumed a significantly “reduced threat environment,” which allowed radar performance to seem more effective than it may actually be against a sophisticated threat. Even though the radar/hull study validated the need for a very large radar to be carried on a newly designed surface combatant, the Navy decided the IAMD “capability gap” could be met by pairing a smaller, advanced Air and Missile Defense Radar with the DDG-51 hull built for the Aegis Combat System, which would evolve into the newly designed DDG-51 Flight III. The selection of the Aegis Combat System determined the hull form.

According to Navy analysis, selecting the DDG-51 hull to carry the smaller Air and Missile Defense Radar requires significant redesign and reduces the ability of these ships to accommodate future systems. The decision also limits the size of the radar to one that will be at best marginally effective and incapable of meeting the Navy’s required capabilities.

The GAO study also highlighted the fact that the current level of oversight may not be commensurate with a program of this size, cost and risk. Proper oversight cannot be stressed enough given the debacle of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, which is scheduled to construct 55 of these failed ships.

The GAO study also concluded that the radar/hull study did not include a thorough trade-off analysis that would compare the relative costs and benefits of different solutions or provide robust insight into all cost alternatives. Suffice to say the GAO study raised a number of questions that remain unresolved.

For many decades, the Navy had superb technology and design capabilities. Its technology resources included the famed Naval Research Laboratory for “basic research” and several outstanding laboratories throughout the country for “applied research.” Its ship design resources included a large number of civilian and naval officers, most of the latter trained in two- and three-year graduate programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In recent misguided attempts to reduce costs, large reductions have been made in all of the Navy’s technology and design resources. These reductions have resulted in many of the major problems the Navy has experienced in the management and oversight of recent shipbuilding programs such as the LCS.

These capabilities cannot be restored quickly but must be done. The GAO correctly points out that the Navy today lacks sufficient in-house oversight for a shipbuilding program of this magnitude. Therefore, since the GAO study was directed to the secretary of defense, it is proposed that the secretary form a “wise man group,” which would possess the necessary technical, design and integrated combat system engineering expertise to review the Navy’s current shipbuilding plan. The group should not have any association with defense contractors in order to ensure an objective review.

The group should review not only plans for the future surface combatant hull but also the troubled LCS program. It should also review the decision to retire seven Aegis cruisers that have 10 to 20 years of service life remaining. With such a review, both the secretary of defense and the Navy should have a more sound basis for going forward with this critical program.

Retired Adm. James A. Lyons was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations.