Destroyers are going through a resurrection of sorts with the advent of ballistic missile defense (BMD) as an emerging mission for Aegis-type ships, involving upgrades that allow ships to do both air defense and BMD.
“The Navy's priorities at the top of the list are the carriers, and then the submarines, and then destroyers and the amphibs,” Petters contends. But the amphibious vessels are at risk now, he says.
“The Navy has a great desire for amphibs,” he notes. “The Marines are looking for lift capability,” but “that seems to be where the resources start to thin.”
HII ranks first of all 2011 shipbuilding contractors, with about $7.8 billion in transactions, including aircraft carrier deals, and about $6.2 billion excluding carrier expenses, according to a recent Aviation Week analysis of contracting data aggregated by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
General Dynamics, which also builds destroyers, finished second in the surface-ship rankings, with about $3.3 billion in deals.
The Navy has other surface-ship investments in mind, though. It wants to build a fleet of smaller vessels meant to work the littorals and establish a small U.S. presence in ports and areas relatively ignored until now.
Smaller combat-ship and landing- vessel contracts and contract modifications tallied about $1.9 billion in 2011, ranking those costs 36th among all non-construction-related Pentagon expenses and second for Navy surface-ship programs after destroyers, which racked up about $4.8 billion for the year. This expenditure puts it ahead of the $1.6 billion in amphibious-ship transactions and the $1.5 billion spent on aircraft carrier deals.
In comparison, combat-ship-related expenses did not even crack the annual top 50 for Navy-related costs over the previous decade, and failed to rank in the top 100 between 1999 and 2009.
The analysis also highlights the reason for the rise of combat-ship expenditures: the growing importance of the LCS program. Indeed, Navy officials say the immediate LCS fleet plans are among the few protected against most budgetary or sequestration impacts. The LCS-1 USS Freedom, for example, deployed March 1, as scheduled, the same week the Navy acknowledged it had picked up options on four more LCS vessels totaling some $1.4 billion.