Full Steam Ahead on Procurement

kpeters@govexec.com

What are the Navy's top acquisition priorities? Why all of them, of course. Just ask the service's procurement chief, John Douglass.

"It's like asking which of your children do you love the most. You love them all," says Douglass, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

It would seem the Defense Department leadership agrees. In the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon's major analysis of its long-term plans released in May, Navy programs emerged relatively unscathed.

"We came out of the QDR with our strategy validated and with our force structure relatively intact, so there are not huge changes on where we were planning to go relative to the QDR," Douglass says. "All of the big programs we had in place before the QDR are continuing, some slightly modified. They're all high priority.

"They fit into a pattern of national security strategy which was ratified in the QDR, which says we're going to stay engaged with forces that are forward deployed, and predominately those forces are going to be Navy and Marine Corps. That's good news for the Navy. It's a validation of what we felt was important for the country," Douglass says.

Seaworthy Programs

By 1999, Navy plans call for a deployable battle force of 335 ships, down from 356 this year. Eight new ships and two conversion ships will join the force next year, offset by the decommissioning of 18 ships. In 1999, five new and one conversion ship will be added, offset by the decommissioning of 17 ships. The future fleet will rely heavily on new technologies to offset its smaller size.

Development of the next-generation aircraft carrier, the CVX, continues in 1998, with construction expected to begin in 2006. The Navy also will begin procurement of the CVN-77, the tenth Nimitz-class carrier, continuing the modernization of the carrier fleet, which includes 11 active carriers, down from 15 in 1990, and one reserve/training carrier. The total cost of the CVN-77, which is to be the last Nimitz-class carrier constructed, is expected to be $6.5 billion. To further upgrade the carrier fleet, the Navy will begin the first Nimitz refueling complex overhaul on CVN-68, which will include various warfighting and communications upgrades as well.

Current plans call for the Navy to have a fleet of 116 surface combatants, slightly more than the Navy had in 1921, the smallest level this century. But future combatants will rely increasingly on technology to pack a more lethal punch and operate more efficiently and affordably. In particular, the Navy is pursuing the SC-21 program to begin production of a new class of surface combatants in 2003, when procurement of the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer will be nearly completed. In the meantime, the Clinton administration's 1998 budget supports the multiyear procurement of 12 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers over four years beginning in fiscal 1998, benefiting General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works facility and Litton's Ingalls Shipbuilding division.

"We're looking at ways to harmonize our research on CVX with the work we're doing on SC-21, so that common items would go on both ships," Douglass says. "We're not going to have one kind of communication system on one and a different kind on the other. Across the board, pumps, motors, air conditioning systems and things of that nature we'll make common, saving money."

The Navy, together with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, plans to build a prototype of the arsenal ship in 1998. The program, with its remotely controlled heavy payload (as many as 500 long-range land-attack missiles) and its small crew (as few as 50 people) could revolutionize naval warfare. Three contractor teams, lead by General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, are vying for the contract, to be awarded in early 1998. The winner will build the prototype and five ships.

The Navy's resolve to shore up the submarine industrial base also is boosted in the administration's 1998 budget request. The budget includes funding to complete the final Seawolf-class submarine and fully fund a multi-year acquisition strategy to purchase four New Attack Submarines beginning in 1998. The acquisition plan for New Attack Submarines is based on a teaming arrangement between General Dynamics' Electric Boat division and Newport News Shipbuilding. The companies are to jointly build the first four submarines under a multi-year procurement contract. Defense officials anticipate submarines will be procured at a long-term rate of one-and-one-half to two per year, for a total force of 50 subs.

Sealift is also slated to get a boost in the 1998 budget, with the purchase of the final three of 19 Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSRs) ships. Two are to be purchased in 1998 and one in 1999.

Naval Aircraft

One of the Navy's key aircraft programs has been the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter. The Navy bought the first 12 last year, and has requested funding to buy another 20 in 1998. The Navy had intended to buy 1,000 of the fighters altogether, but those plans have been modified under the QDR.

The QDR recommends the Navy procure 548 Super Hornets, building up to a maximum of 48 per year, down from earlier projections of a 60-per-year production rate. The ramp-up to the 48-per-year rate would not begin until 2002. The smaller number of Super Hornets would be offset by purchasing more Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, once that technology is proven superior to the Super Hornet.

Depending on the pace of the JSF program, the Navy's transition from Super Hornets to JSFs could begin as early as 2008. If the JSF program is delayed, the QDR recommended the Navy procure more Super Hornets-as many as 785-to sustain Navy fighter capability.

"We will either buy Joint Strike Fighters or F/A-18E/F's in those far years, depending on the progress of the Joint Strike Fighter program," Douglass says. "Clearly what that means is naval aviation will get a new modern fighter. It's just that we're not exactly sure what the mix will be. While that complicates things a little bit, the bottom line is it's good news for the Navy. We will be getting new fighters and we will have a modern air component."

Citing an urgent need to replace the Marine Corps' aging fleet of Vietnam-era medium lift helicopters, the QDR recommended accelerating the MV-22 Osprey procurement to a long-term rate of 30 aircraft per year in 2004. Based on the MV-22's superior capability relative to the CH-46 helicopter it will replace, the total number of aircraft purchased will be cut from 425 to 360. Defense officials estimate that accelerating the procurement rate and reducing the total number of aircraft purchased will save more than $3 billion in total program costs.

Additionally, the Navy will continue development of the Marine Corps' Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAAV), with prototype assembly to begin in 1998 and initial testing scheduled for 1999. Development, prototype manufacturing and engineering are budgeted to continue during 1998 and 1999 for the lightweight 155mm howitzer, which is slated to replace the operationally deficient M198 howitzer. Marine Corps firepower also is to be enhanced with procurement of the Predator short-range, anti-armor weapon beginning in 1999 and continuing procurement of the Javelin medium-range, portable anti-tank weapon.

The Marine Corps also plans to procure remanufactured medium tactical vehicles, which will provide technology enhancements and an additional 22-year service life, beginning in 1999.

All told, Navy officials are not unhappy with their 1998 modernization outlook, given severe Defense budget constraints.

Douglass is even optimistic Congress will add one or two more ships to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer multiyear contract. His reasoning: "For every ship we add, generally speaking, we save between two and three hundred million dollars. Given the base [of 12 ships], if we buy 13 and 14 we're getting those ships in the neighborhood of seven hundred million dollars apiece, whereas before they were costing us above $900 million buying them one at a time."

Given the Navy's and Congress' mutual interests in keeping shipbuilders busy, Douglass has reason for optimism.

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