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April 6, 2009

Gates outlines Navy shipbuilding budget proposals

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today laid out FY 2010 budget recommendations that he said aim to reshape the priorities of America's defense establishment.

"If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business," Gates told reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon.

Gates said his recommendations culminate experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lessons he's learned during his two-year tenure leading the Defense Department and a career in national security.

The defense secretary said he reached his decisions after consulting with President Barack Obama, and with military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon. The chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are in accordance with his recommendations, Gates added.

"My decisions have been almost exclusively influenced by factors other than simply finding a way to balance the books or fit under the top line, as is normally the case with most budget exercises," he said. "Instead, these recommendations are the product of a holistic assessment of capabilities, requirements, risks and needs for the purpose of shifting this department in a different strategic direction."

On shipbuilding programs, Gates said that the buy of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) would be increased from two to three ships in FY 2010. He called the LCS "a key capability for presence, stability, and counterinsurgency operations in coastal regions" and said "our goal is to eventually acquire 55 of these ships."

"To improve our inter-theater lift capacity, we will increase the charter of Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) ships from two to four until our own production program begins deliveries in 2011," he said.

The news on other shipbuilding programs was more sobering.

"The healthy margin of dominance at sea provided by America's existing battle fleet makes it possible and prudent to slow production of several major surface combatants and other maritime programs," declared the Secretary.

"We will shift the Navy Aircraft Carrier program to a five-year build cycle placing it on a more fiscally sustainable path. This will result in 10 carriers after 2040.

"We will delay the Navy CG-X next generation cruiser program to revisit both the requirements and acquisition strategy.

"We will delay amphibious ship and sea-basing programs such as the 11th Landing Platform Dock (LPD) ship and the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) SHIP to FY11 in order to assess costs and analyze the amount of these capabilities the nation needs."

Secretary Gates said the budget request will include funds to complete the buy of two navy destroyers in FY10.

"These plans depend on being able to work out contracts to allow the Navy to efficiently build all three DDG-1000 class ships at Bath Iron Works in Maine and to smoothly restart the DDG-51 Aegis Destroyer program at Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi," he said. "Even if these arrangements work out, the DDG-1000 program would end with the third ship and the DDG-51 would continue to be built in both yards."

"If our efforts with industry are unsuccessful," noted the Secretary, "the department will likely build only a single prototype DDG-1000 at Bath and then review our options for restarting production of the DDG-51. If the department is left to pursue this alternative, it would unfortunately reduce our overall procurement of ships and cut workload in both shipyards."

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