Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead has been out and about this week with an ambitious agenda talking up everything from cutting $28 billion in budgetary bloat over the next five years, to adding 32 new ships to the Navy’s inventory by 2024, to using more biofuels, to doubling down on unmanned assets.
It has taken the sea service some time to rebound after being publicly shamed by Secretary of Defense Gates last spring, when he told a roomful of Naval officers and journalists that “you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates wielding AK-47s and RPGs,” and called into question the need for eleven carrier groups. But Roughead is back, and a few days after talking up the possibilities that the concept of offshore balancing holds for giving the Navy more of a role in future conflicts, and laying out plans for a “greener” more energy efficient service in the near future, the Admiral has released his CNO Guidance for 2011.
The guidance states that “we will emphasize the affordable production of multi-mission ships and aircraft, [and] capabilities required not desired.” In other words, we’re not just doing this because we can. But when it comes to shipbuilding, the numbers don’t necessarily look great. As ARES noted recently, the Navy’s shipbuilding plan can only be pulled off successfully if all of the planned Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High Speed Vessels are able to be constructed on time and within certain budgetary constraints. The two variants are set to account for about 25 percent of the Navy’s planned 313-ship fleet, and the success of the LCS program in particular is hardly a done deal.
As we know, two LCS variants have already hit the water, but only after blowing their budgets apart, and with enough delays and program cancellations and restarts to scuttle a lesser program. Just as a refresher, plans the Navy drafted at the program’s outset called for each ship to cost only $220 million, but documents that accompanied the 2010 Navy budget request showed that the Lockheed-built ship, the USS Freedom, wound up running $637 million, while the General Dynamics/Austal-built USS Independence came in at $704 million.
Still, the two competitors are currently building one more LCS each. Lockheed Martin recently told Aviation Week that it is more than 70 percent complete with the build for LCS 3, the USS Fort Worth, at its shipyard at Marinette Marine in Wisconsin. Their competitor, the team of General Dynamics/Austal, refused comment on the progress of LCS 4. All of this comes against the backdrop of the program’s latest drama, which saw the Navy request that bidders hand in Final Proposal Revisions (FPR) by September, and that those proposals “remain valid for 90 days.”
As for the rest of the CNO’s Guidance, Roughead promises that “we will pursue unmanned systems as an integrated part of our force,” and “reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and improving the reach of our afloat forces and the resilience of our shore energy sources.”
To this last point, last week Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced ambitious goals of demonstrating a "Green Strike Group" composed of biofuel-powered nuclear vessels and ships in 2012 and 2016; slash petroleum use in the Navy’s commercial vehicle fleet by 50 percent by 2015; make sure that fully half of the Navy's total energy consumption comes from alternative sources by 2020.