Navy seeks to avert precipitous decline in the size of the fleet.

Author:Erwin, Sandra I.

An ambitious Navy plan to expand the size of the fleet not only assumes a considerable surge in spending, but also a fundamental shift in the preparation and execution of ship programs, senior officials say.

An effort to increase the fleet from 281 to 313 ships during the next 30 years will require nearly $5 billion more annually than the Navy currently spends on ship building.

One of the officers in charge of executing the plan, Rear Adm. Barry McCullough, says these goals are attainable, but only if the Navy begins to curb its huge appetite for the "latest and greatest" technology and correctly forecasts the threats the fleet is likely to face in the coming decades.

The shipbuilding program has been mired in controversy, as the Navy in recent years has seen a slowdown in the construction of new ships, while it continues to retire old ones. The upshot has been a precipitous decline in the size of the fleet, which prompted the chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, to try to come up with ways to stop the decline and gradually begin an upsurge in the number of ships.

One of Mullen's rules is that shipbuilding programs must be "stabilized," meaning that the Navy must stick to the approved long-term plans and avoid changing the features and performance specs of a ship after it's already been designed.

"Historically, we've had a propensity to grow or change requirements" while ships are being designed and built, says McCullough, who is director of Navy surface warfare.

"When we change requirements, once we define the capability, it adds cost," he says in an interview. "It's incumbent upon the Navy and the people in my directorate to define a requirement, stick to it and challenge industry to drive the cost down."

Mullen's guidance has been clear: No more bells and whistles that add costs and delay construction schedules. In exchange for stability, he will expect shipbuilders to trim their prices.

McCullough says there is a cultural tendency among Navy planners to change the requirements to keep pace with geopolitical changes and "threat analysis."

It takes five years or longer to build a ship, he adds. "As you move forward, the analysis of threats changes, and we always want the latest and greatest things."

That thinking must evolve, if the Navy is to ever reach a 313-ship fleet, which is expected to include 11 aircraft carriers, 88 surface combatants, 55 littoral combat ships, 48 attack submarines, four cruise missile...

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