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Stackley: Funding Ohio Replacement ‘Daunting Challenge’

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USS Maryland (SSBN-738) transits the Saint Marys River.

USS Maryland (SSBN-738) transits the Saint Marys River.

“The most daunting challenge” facing the Navy’s newly released shipbuilding plan is paying for the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement when it is expected to take $100 billion—over 12 to 15 years—from that account, the service’s top acquisition official said.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, Sean Stackley said the plan would require a spending commitment similar to that of the 600-ship building program early in the administration of President Ronald Reagan.

Vice Adm. Allen Myers, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, added, “Half [of the shipbuilding budget] goes to one ship” during a time when the Navy wants to build 47 ships and retire 42 others.

More than $1 billion is included in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget request, Stackley said, with construction scheduled to begin 2021.

“We need a steady increase in shipbuilding,” he added, especially in those years right after the future year’s defense spending plan ends. If that does not come, funds to keep the whole program on course would have to come from other accounts outside the Navy to pay for the Ohio-class replacement.

Stackley attributed the rising costs of the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy to delays in delivery of needed material to Huntington Ingalls in Newport News. He said that the contractor’s efforts to speed those deliveries “are bearing some fruit,” but the higher costs already associated with the carrier’s construction likely will remain.

Industrial-base concerns for the amphibious and auxiliary shipbuilding sector were accelerating activity in the T-AO(X), the next generation Fleet oiler, “ahead of need.” Stackley said procurement is scheduled to begin in 2016. To hold down costs, “we want to leverage commercial design wherever possible.”

T-AO(X) was accelerated ahead of schedule to provide work for shipyard General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, Calif., Stackley has said in the past.

For the LX(R), the next generation amphibious warship, he said, “today we’re in an analysis of alternatives” phase that is looking at either a totally new design for the amphibious ship, modification of existing designs, or adopting foreign designs. Procurement is scheduled to begin in 2019.

As Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee the same day, the Littoral Combat Ship program is largely on course. Stackley told the House panel, “We’re not going to put a lot of pressure on [the delivery] schedule if it has an impact on cost.”

While the budget request does not anticipate sequestration continuing, furloughs are having an effect at Navy and Marine Corps depots and shipyards. Myers said that furloughs “create a domino effect that will take a couple of years to overcome,” raising costs. Using ballistic-missile submarines as an example, he said that furloughs to the civilian workforce increases the needed time for completion of necessary maintenance by three to four months.