In their first budget hearing of the year with the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Navy officials described their Fiscal Year 2016 plans that include speeding up construction of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) without changing its delivery date, hurrying to start the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) planning to avoid problems down the road, and abandoning hopes of procuring a third Afloat Forward Staging Base early.
Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee that current budget plans speed up Kennedy construction at Newport News Shipbuilding but would then include a gap in work before installing electronics just prior to the ship’s delivery date – which would remain unchanged.
“We want to build it early from the standpoint of efficiency with the shipyard,” Stackley said. “However, if you build it early, deliver it early, then you have an overlap between 79 and the retirement of CVN-68. What we can’t do is ramp up one extra aircraft carrier crew for a couple year period. So what we’re doing is we look at that as schedule flexibility – we’re going to try to drive the CVN-79 construction to the left for efficiency purposes, but then we’re going to look for a window, a second phase in the build process for the carrier, where we’re going to bring in electronics, electronic systems that would be obsolete if we were to buy them early. So we’re going to buy them as late as possible, install them as late as possible, so that the systems we install are in fact state of the fleet at the time the carrier delivers.”
Stackley added later in the hearing that the Navy just signed a contract with Newport News Shipbuilding for planning activities for the George Washington overhaul, which would include 30 months for planning, design activities and early materiel procurement. When the carrier shows up in July 2017 for work, Stackley said the yard needs to be ready to go.
“What we want to do is minimize the extent of overlap in the next aircraft carrier, which is the Nimitz (CVN-74). So if that RCOH starts much beyond July of ’17 then we get concerned about the combined 73, 74 RCOHs,” he said.
Navy Won’t Ask to Accelerate AFSB-3
Though the Navy is always looking for opportunities to increase efficiency by moving up schedule, as may be the case with Kennedy, it abandoned its plans to get an early start on the third AFSB, which is a variant of the Mobile Landing Platform built by General Dynamics NASSCO. The Navy asked last year for advance procurement funding for a ship that would be the fifth MLP and third AFSB variant, since getting an early start would eliminate a gap in production and therefore help keep costs down. But despite support from the armed services committees, Stackley said there was no support from the appropriators.
“Yes it is desirable (to have the advance procurement funding); you don’t see it in our budget because frankly the appropriators have marked it out each time we’ve tried to put it in. So for us it’s a challenge to put money in if we know the appropriators are going to mark it out. So any assistance in that regard would be helpful to the industrial base and helpful to getting the capability earlier, but we recognize the challenge associated with the appropriators’ view on that,” Stackley said.
Stackley said the first two AFSBs are still on track to meet cost and schedule requirements – with the first, USNS Lewis B. Puller (MLP-3/AFSB-1) having just been christened – but the advance procurement funding would allow the third AFSB to be moved up a full year.
Lower Cruiser Modification Costs Needed
After the hearing, Stackley and the other hearing panelists took questions from reporters on a variety of topics. Asked about the cruiser modernization program, Stackley said he had enough money from Congress to work on the program through 2019 but would need more money to complete all the ships. Before asking for more money, though, he said he needed to work on lowering the cost estimate.
“I’m not happy with the estimate,” he said, adding that the work would average about $500 million per ship. “Given this cost for this set of upgrades, do we still want to do all of it, or do we want to tailor each package by hull and then be able to get more work done across the class?”
Navy Will Develop New V-22 Variant for COD Mission
Stackley also discussed the decision to use the V-22 Osprey as the Navy’s next Carrier Onboard Delivery platform.
“I actually went back and took a second look at the results … a second cursory look and then a third look deep,” he said. “The bottom line came down to affordable capability, and V-22 was the answer. Having looked at this several times, I’m firmly planted there, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t start there.”
Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, who also testified at the hearing, said that Marine Corps Reserve pilots who are already trained to operate the platform would join carrier airwings to fly COD missions on the first few deployments with the V-22. Marines will train Navy pilots to operate the aircraft, and Navy crews will eventually replace the Marine reservists.
Mulloy noted the great opportunity for integration as a “naval aviation” force rather than Navy and Marine Corps forces – between the efficiencies in buying the platform concurrently a few years from now, to the training efficiencies, to even Navy-required platform changes that may benefit the Marines. He said that “ultimately the V-22s in the COD mission will have extra tanks and other things on them. What the Marines are interested in is, if it can go longer and fly longer, the Marines may want to get into what I call the Navy variant. The Navy variant may become a naval variant.”
Stackley: NASSCO Qualified for Amphib Competition
Lastly, Stackley addressed his recent decision to combine the LHA-8 amphibious assault ship and the first six T-AO(X) fleet oiler replacement ships into a single competition between NASSCO and Ingalls Shipbuilding. Stackley denounced concerns that NASSCO couldn’t build an amphib, saying that the company’s status as the only full-service shipyard on the West Coast makes it “a major player in terms of maintenance and modernization of our amphibs homeported in San Diego. So we think they’ve got the skills, the capacity to be able to compete for amphib work.”