USNI News polled its writers, naval analysts and service members on what they consider the most important military and maritime stories in 2015.
Navy Selects New COD Airframe
In January, the Navy selected the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey as the planned replacement for the decades-old Northrop Grumman C-2A Greyhound to serve as the carrier onboard delivery aircraft for the U.S. aircraft carrier fleet.
The Osprey beat out bids from Northrop and Lockheed Martin to replace the Greyhounds, planned to enter the fleet in 2026.
The introduction of the the Osprey will allow the service more flexibility in how it delivers material throughout the carrier strike group.
“When you look at the MV-22 as the COD, it’s much more than a COD aircraft and then you have to take a look at that and ask yourself, ‘given all the capability of the MV-22, all that other capability that you get, all the different ways you can employ that aircraft just as the COD, what that would mean in terms of the air wing, the carrier, the other ships in the carrier battle group,” Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) told reporters in January.
SECDEF Carter Orders Littoral Combat Ship Program Downsized
In December, a strongly worded memo from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus set off a drastic shift in the Littoral Combat Ship program.
Unhappy with the Navy’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget, Carter directed Mabus to trim the total buy of Lockheed Martin Freedom-class and Independence-class LCS by 12 ships — from 52 to 40.
“The new plan would call for a building only six LCS between fiscal years 2017-2020 – eight less than the Navy’s submitted in its 2017 plan – and directs the Navy to down select to a single shipyard and a single hull type in 2019,” wrote USNI News.
Carter’s letter did not only direct the Navy to invest more money in high-end weapon systems, it also chided the service’s focus on maximizing ship numbers
“For the last several years, the Department of the Navy has overemphasized resources used to incrementally increase total ship numbers at the expense of critically-needed investments in areas where our adversaries are not standing still, such as strike, ship survivability, electronic warfare, and other capabilities,” read the memo.
Next Generation Amphibious Warship Progresses
The Navy made a great deal of progress on its LX(R) amphibious dock landing ship replacement in 2015, from descoping the LPD design baseline to create an affordable LX(R) to preparing to move to contract design.
In February the service announced it would compete the LHA-8 amphibious assault ship and the T-AO(X) fleet oiler replacement to NASSCO and Ingalls Shipbuilding, with each company winning one detail design and construction contract and the lowest combined bid winning the majority of LX(R) contract design engineering man hours. The request for proposals came out in July.
In preparation for the move to contract design, a Navy and Marine Corps team went through the LPD amphibious transport dock design, stripped away features that were not needed for the LSD replacement, and added in a few new features to create an affordable LX(R) design.
New Navy Connectors
The Navy spent 2015 both extending the life of its Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) surface connectors and working on their replacements, which will not hit the fleet until 2017.
The Navy had previously extended the life of the LCACs from 20 years to 30 years, but the first of the LCACs would have retired in 2015 and the first two Ship to Shore Connectors (SSCs) would not have been ready until 2017, with production ramping up but not fast enough to prevent the fleet from shrinking. So the LCACs went into a Post Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) Extension to replace some machinery and address obsolescence issues, giving the platforms a few more years of service life.
The Navy also began preliminary design work for the Landing Craft Utility (LCU) replacement, the Surface Connector X Replacement (SC(X)R), which will hit the fleet in 2022.
Virginia Payload Module
The Virginia Payload Module design is being finalized, and the number of VPMs the Navy will buy per year is still under discussion.
The Navy is finalizing the VPM design and will start prototyping to reduce risk and cost ahead of the 2019 construction start, the Navy told Congress earlier this year.
Though the Navy reported that capabilities and requirements for the module – which adds additional missile tubes to the Virginia-class attack subs to make up for the loss of the SSGN guided-missile submarines – the quantity remains uncertain. The Navy had originally planned to buy one a year despite building two boats a year every other year – meaning that only two of every three boats would have the enhanced fire power.
The House Armed Services Committee made it clear they wanted a VPM on every new boat starting in 2019, and the Program Executive Office for Submarines said they would like the same but had not determined if industry could handle the workload yet.
According to a memo from Defense Secretary Ash Carter, though, the Navy tried to cut funding from the VPM program in its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request – a decision Carter ordered the Navy to reverse to protect the program.
Flight III Arleigh Burke-class Destroyers –
The Navy prepared to release its request for proposals for an upgrade to the Flight III version of its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDG-51), which features a new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR).
Both DDG builders, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding, are collaborating on detail design of the Flight III upgrade, which should be complete by the summer of 2017. And both companies responded to a draft RFP for the first Flight III ship’s construction, though the final RFP has not yet been released.
Flight III detail design should be complete by mid-2017, when the first Flight III ship – which will be bought with Fiscal Year 2016 money – would be ready to start construction.
After adjusting to the Flight III design, the Navy intends to buy 10 Flight III DDGs in a multiyear procurement contract starting in FY 2018 to help reduce the cost of the ships, the service announced in its long-range shipbuilding plan.
When the tumblehome hull of the guided missile destroyer Zumwalt (DDG-1000) left the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works for the first time in early December it was an iconic moment for the yard and the Navy.
But the promise of the ship class to serve as a test bed for the next generation of naval weapons and sensors has been tempered by construction delays that have bled over into BIW’s production of Arleigh Burke destroyers.
The delay in the three ship, $22.1 billion program has prompted the Navy to review the planned delivery schedules for the under construction Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) and Thomas Hudner (DDG-116).