Navy con­sid­ers ship­build­ing cuts for up­com­ing bud­get

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By David Sharp and Lolita Baldor

PORT­LAND, Maine — The Navy is propos­ing con­struc­tion cut­backs and ac­cel­er­ated ship re­tire­ments that would de­lay, or sink, the Navy’s goal of a larger fleet — and po­ten­tially hurt ship­yards, ac­cord­ing to an ini­tial pro­posal.

The pro­posal would shrink the size of the fleet from today’s level of 293 ships to 287 ships, a far cry from the of­fi­cial goal of 355 ships es­tab­lished in the 2018 Na­tional De­fense Autho­riza­tion Act.

Ac­cord­ing to a de­fense of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the memo, bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions are on­go­ing and no fi­nal de­ci­sions have been made. But the Navy is looking at a num­ber of ways to cut costs to fund other pri­or­i­ties, the of­fi­cial said.

One of the pro­posed cuts would re­duce the num­ber of Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroy­ers planned for con­struc­tion from 12 to seven over the next five years, trim­ming $9.4 bil­lion, or about 8%, from the ship­build­ing bud­get, the of­fi­cial said.

Another po­ten­tial cut would de­com­mis­sion Ti­con­deroga-class cruis­ers more quickly over the next five years, leav­ing nine in the fleet, rather than 13.

The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss pre­lim­i­nary bud­get plan­ning dis­cus­sions that have not been made public.

“Ei­ther op­tion runs counter to the Navy’s stated re­quire­ment for a 355-ship fleet, and would not be well-re­ceived on Capi­tol Hill given there’s still con­sen­sus that the mil­i­tary and strate­gic threat from Rus­sia and China is only in­creas­ing,” said naval an­a­lyst Jay Kor­man of Avas­cent Group.

De­fense an­a­lyst Nor­man Fried­man said the pro­posal would rep­re­sent a ma­jor re­duc­tion in anti-air­craft ca­pa­bil­ity that is pro­vided by de­stroy­ers and cruis­ers at a time when the Navy is fac­ing more so­phis­ti­cated threats from air­craft and mis­siles.

“If you were se­ri­ous about fac­ing down the Chi­nese, you’d prob­a­bly want more of that than less,” said Fried­man.

Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroy­ers are pro­duced at two ship­yards, Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics sub­sidiary, and In­galls Ship­build­ing in Mis­sis­sippi. A Bath spokesman de­clined to com­ment.

Repub­li­can Sen. Su­san Collins and in­de­pen­dent Sen. An­gus King, of Maine, called the pro­posal “an abrupt re­ver­sal of the Navy’s plan to in­crease the size of the fleet.”

The sen­a­tors noted that Congress will have the fi­nal say, and they suggested that much of the fund­ing is al­ready in the works. Re­cently, Congress ap­pro­pri­ated $5.1 bil­lion for three de­stroy­ers, and a $390 mil­lion in­crease in ad­vanced pro­cure­ment for a down pay­ment on an ad­di­tional ship next fis­cal year, they said.

The pro­posed cost cut­ting comes as the Navy works to mod­ern­ize its bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine fleet, re­plac­ing ag­ing cur­rent Ohio-class subs with new Columbia-class nu­clear subs. That pro­gram is putting pres­sure on the ship­build­ing bud­get.

The Navy reportedly has some wig­gle room in reach­ing the 355-ship fleet size with the sug­ges­tion that the bat­tle force could in­clude un­manned, as well as manned, war­ships.

The Navy said the dis­cus­sions are “pre-de­ci­sional” and sub­ject to change. “We will not com­ment on fu­ture ship­build­ing de­ci­sions un­til the bud­get re­quest is sub­mit­ted to Congress next year,” said Cmdr. Clay Doss, a Navy spokesman.

SEAN D. EL­LIOT/AP

One of the Navy’s pro­posed con­struc­tion cuts would de­crease the num­ber of Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroy­ers like the one above from 12 to seven over the next five years.

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