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Stackley: Fleet Needs More BMD Ships to Meet Demand

Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) launches a standard missile (SM) 3 Blk IA during a 2009 exercise. US Navy Photo

Aegis-class destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) launches a standard missile (SM) 3 Blk IA during a 2009 exercise. US Navy Photo

CRYSTAL CITY, Va. — The Navy’s acquisition chief stressed the importance of modernizing ships in the fleet – particularly the ballistic missile defense (BMD) fleet – to keep them operating for their full service life, even as tight budgets are forcing the Navy not to upgrade five Aegis guided missile destroyers with a BMD capability over the next five years.

In a keynote speech on Wednesday at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ ASNE Day 2015, Sean Stackley said the only way to reach a 300-ship navy is by “ensuring the ships in our inventory today are mission-capable and relevant for their full service life.” He noted the Navy is midway through refueling the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSGN-726) and conducting refueling and complex overhauls of the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers (CVN-68), as well as being mostly through modernizing the amphibious dock landing ships.

“Perhaps most significantly, we’re on the front end of modernizing our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Come what may in the budget environment, we need to complete this effort,” Stackley said.

USNI News reported Tuesday that five Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDG-51) would forgo a combat system upgrade that would give the ships BMD capabilities. The plan saves the Navy $500 million over the next five years as sequestration’s budget caps threaten to return in Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, but takes away from the planned BMD-capable fleet that is increasingly in demand by the combatant commanders.

Modernization periods for five Flight IIA Burkes — USS Howard (DDG-83); USS McCampbell (DDG-85); USS Mustin (DDG-89); USS Chafee (DDG-90); USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) — will not include the Baseline 9C Aegis Combat System series of processing power and software upgrades to bring an Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) capability to the destroyers, and would rather include only modest hull, mechanical and electrical upgrades, according to an unclassified version of the current modernization plan seen by USNI News.

Stackley would not comment on the specific hulls when asked during the question and answer session, saying that “the specifics of which hull, et cetera … when you start talking about FY ‘18 and out, what we’re doing is we’re putting a marker down in terms of what we need to do. But as everybody here is well aware, sometimes operations cause various ships to swap in and out of that plan. Most importantly, most importantly, and you hear this consistently, everybody that’s been up to the Hill has hammered the issue home – you hit us with sequestration, you take away our ability to deliver that capability.”

Even though these plans would reduce the Navy’s BMD-capable fleet by five ships, Stackley said that combatant commander demands indicate the fleet size needs to go up, not down.

“The backbone of our fleet, the workhorse of our fleet is our Aegis cruisers and destroyers. We have 84 today at sea and that number is growing, but the reality is that our cruisers are at midlife, they’re eclipsing midlife, and our destroyers are entering midlife. Two things we’ve got to do: one, we’ve got to get them to their full service life … and we’re going to look to extend their service life. So we’ve got to get them, at that midlife, get their upgrades in place, get the degree of ballistic missile defense that we need to get our BMD ship count up.”

In comments following Stackley’s speech, Naval Sea Systems Command commander Vice Adm. William Hilarides said the reduction in Aegis modernization came down to money.

“It’s a demonstration of what happens when tighten five or six years in a row and slack comes out of all of our program,” he said.
“That’s all that’s left to give. Unless you want to give up ships and I think you heard the Secretary of the Navy. We’re not giving up shipbuilding programs.”

Hilarides described the reduction as “dialing the fleet’s capability for the near term” relative to the budget.

“The fact there is that when money comes — if tomorrow a war starts and we say ‘hey, better go get those five ships modernized’ and CNO [asks] ‘can you do it three months?’,” he said.
“Yeah, if we had all the money in the world, we could do it really fast and so I think what you see is a burn year that we chose.”

Also during his speech, Stackley also said the Navy would begin developing a 30-year research and development plan to ensure that the Navy has the capabilities and the skilled workforce it needs to stay relevant in the future.

The effort, which will be led by Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mat Winter and former Marine Corps Systems Command executive director John Burrow, will “guide our investments in those future warfighting capabilities that will ensure that our Navy is not merely the largest in the world but that our Navy remains the most powerful in the world.”

Stackley pointed to a future cruiser replacement as an area of focus for the 30-year R&D plan. Having terminated the CG(X) program because the Navy couldn’t afford it at the time, the Navy now has no clear plan for how to eventually replace the cruiser fleet.

“I’m looking for Dr. Burrow and Adm. Winter, working with the sponsors, working with the design and engineering community, to start pointing towards what technologies, what capabilities, what timeline to support a cruiser capability in our fleet in time to support the retirement of the CG-47 class.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Every Aegis platform should be upgraded with the Integrated Air and Missile Defense v9 Baseline update. to do less makes our nation and the US Navy less able to handle the threats today and coming in the future. Almost every industrialized nation on the planet has ballistic missiles. If they have a coast they will have a version that can attack ships. Therefore every surface combatant in the US Navy should have a baseline, bare-bones Theater Ballistic Missile capability at a minimum. That may not necessarily be IAMD, but is will certainly employ a non-rotating 3D sensor and a standard missile at a minimum. That us is one of the reasons the LCS (new FF) is under-armed to accomplish its mission where ever it goes. Provide our sailors the tools with which to survive, or do not send them.

    • tpharwell

      It seems Congress took the BMD upgrade money and gave it to the LCS program.

      • Secundius

        @ tpharwell.

        The LCS program was already funded in the Bush/Cheney Administration in 2005. The BMD funds, came out of the Arleigh Burke Block III funding program along with the New Ohio class Boomer replacement program…

  • Ctrot

    Forgoing these BMD upgrades saves only $500 million? The simple solution is to cancel 2 Littoral Combat Ships and put the money toward the Burke upgrades instead. Surely the Navy sees that 5 BMD ships are worth more than 2 LCS.

    • publius_maximus_III

      Like the guy that yelled, “More cowbells”… I’ll say it over and over, more destroyers, better destroyers, backbone of the U.S. Navy.

    • Secundius

      @ Ctrot.

      Try four, it’s four LCS to one Burke ratio…

      • Ctrot

        The article states that the BMD upgrades for the 5 Burkes would cost $500 million, cancelling 2 LCS would free up well over $500 million.

        • tpharwell

          If I am not mistaken, one LCS is north of $500K. And the Navy is getting the money for it in the new budget. This is another instance of a directed appropriation. The Navy is not getting more money for modernization in general. It is getting a line item in its budget for another LCS.
          So, as the DEPSEC claimed, the Navy is not going cut back on shipbuilding. Indeed.
          NB, this was extra money, DOD did not ask for. The House doubled up the LCS line item.
          Could it be that this is DOD’s way of responding ?

          • Secundius

            @ tpharwell.

            An Arleigh Burke Block III as is cost in the neighborhood of ~$1.843-Billion USD. apiece. A Independence Block 0 as is ~$437-Million USD. apiece and an Freedom Block 0 as is ~$450-Million USD. apiece…

    • Secundius

      @ Ctrot.

      The problem is that the budget for the LCS is, pretty much Set In Stone…

  • Jim Valle

    Politically our military has been giving its votes to the “patriotic” Republican Party while they work ceaselessly to cut budgets, lower taxes and shrink the size of government. Well, guess what! The Navy IS big government and it LIVES on tax money! So I ask you, paraphrasing a famous pundit, “How’s all that patriotic fervor workin’ out for you”?

    • Ctrot

      How simplistic and dead wrong.

    • Secundius

      @ Jim Valle.

      I’m a Moderate Republican, living just outside WDC and your Spot On, Dead Right On the Mark…