Navy secretary cites need to control shipbuilding costs

The Navy and U.S. shipbuilders need to get program costs under control for the service to reach its goal of fielding a modern 313-ship fleet, Navy Secretary Donald Winter told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. Winter, who has taken a tough-love approach to the shipbuilding industry during his tenure, said there must be a collaborative effort to rein in ever-changing program requirements, which often lead to increased costs for ship programs. "I am hopeful that we still will be able to obtain a 313-ship target in a timely manner, but that is going to require a significant effort on the part of both the Navy and of industry to work together to make significant changes in their acquisition process, including in particular stabilizing requirements and having ... a limit on their appetite for those requirements," the secretary said.

Winter directed his comments at ship programs that are to be developed in the future, including the CG(X) cruiser, which will not join the fleet for another decade. "I am confident that we have a viable program for [FY]09 and for the ... years around that," Winter told the panel. "As we go out further in time, there are a number of uncertainties associated with everything from the cost of production to the overall requirements that have yet to be defined for many of the future systems." The Navy has said it needs an average of $15.8 billion a year, in fiscal 2007 dollars, to obtain its future fleet. "That is more than what we're spending right now, but hopefully it is achievable within the current allocation process," Winter said. For fiscal 2009, the Navy requested only $14.1 billion for its shipbuilding accounts. Winter's comments contrasted somewhat with more optimistic statements from Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead, who Thursday reiterated his belief that the 313-ship fleet represents only a floor for the Navy, which now has 279 ships.

During the hearing, Marine Corps Commandant James Conway disputed allegations that his service ignored an urgent request from the field for mine-resistant vehicles and unnecessarily delayed procurement of the vehicles by as much as two years. Echoing similar statements made Wednesday by the Marine Corps' top acquisition official, Conway said the February 2005 request was for more M1114 up-armored Humvees, not the Mine Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, which have been fielded in the thousands so far in Iraq to offer better protection for troops from roadside bombs. At the time, there were only six MRAPs in Iraq, many of which were having maintenance problems. Also, Conway said commanders were more concerned in 2005 with "side of the road" attacks than underbelly explosives, which the MRAP, with its V-shaped armored hull, is designed to protect against.

Franz Gayl, a civilian Marine Corps science adviser, made the charges on the MRAP delays in a Jan. 22 internal report. In response to the charges, the Marine Corps has asked the Pentagon inspector general to review Gayl's allegations. "We asked for the DoD IG investigation ... so that all the facts can be brought to bear," Conway said. "And we think that the conclusion will be that well-intended men very much concerned about the welfare of their Marines made prudent decisions at the time to bring forward the best capability we could to protect our people in combat."

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