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Marine Log

July 24, 2008

Kennedy to Gates: Rethink DDG 1000 cancelation

The vastly expensive DDG-1000 destroyer still has fans in the Senate.

Senator Edward Kennedy (who is Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee) and a number of other senators have asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to review and evaluate the Navy's plan to purchase only two new DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyers for the future, instead of the seven planned. Instead, the Navy would return to buying DDG-51 destroyers.

They have sent Gates a letter that raises the possibility that the decision to cap the program "could result in the Congress providing no funding for new surface combatants in FY09."

In February, notes a statement released by Senator Kennedy's office, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that he would follow the normal budget process. Now, only five months later, Secretary Winter and CNO Admiral Gary Roughead have done an about-face and tried to cancel the program. The Navy has failed to provide Congress with any evidence of a sweeping change in requirements that would justify abandoning the DDG-1000 in favor of the less capable DDG-51. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen stated last year that the Navy does not need more DDG-51s, and that returning to them would be going back to 1980's technology.

Decisions of this magnitude should not be made without a careful analysis conducted under the normal budget process with oversight by the appropriate congressional committees.

Those signing the letter are Senators Kennedy, Kerry, Webb, Dorgan, Kohl, Reed, Snowe, Collins, Coleman, Whitehouse, Martinez, and Nelson.

The text of the letter appears below.

Dear Secretary Gates:

For more than a decade, the Navy has consistently testified before Congress on the need for modern capability in surface combatants and assured Congress that the investment of more than $11 billion in DDG-1000 would be re-used in future designs. We were therefore alarmed by an apparent shift in FY09 budget priorities away from the established long-term shipbuilding plan and advocacy by senior Navy officials for truncating the DDG-1000 program and re-starting production of the DDG-51. This apparent shift comes only a few months after testimony by senior Navy officials on the importance of allowing the combatant-build programs to take root, grow, and stabilize. This also conflicts with numerous Navy, Defense Department, and industry witnesses who have pointed out that wide variability in ship acquisition planning and execution is a leading contributor to cost growth and other acquisition problems.

A shift of this magnitude in the Navy's shipbuilding plan requires a full review and analysis through the proper departmental channels and processes, including congressional oversight. To do otherwise would undermine the Navy's shipbuilding plan in Congress and could result in the Congress providing no funding for new surface combatants in FY09.

A full review and analysis are particularly warranted with regard to any proposal to restart the DDG-51 production line to fulfill Navy surface combatant requirements. The real cost of purchasing DDG-51s instead of DDG-1000s, both in financial and capability terms, is unclear. The only way to make a sound comparison between the two alternatives is to have detailed, documented estimates of the costs for both programs and to assess the extent to which each ship can meet the validated warfighting requirements for which the DDG-1000 was intended.

In light of this apparent disconnect between more than a decade of Navy testimony and the recent advocacy against the President's budget, we urge you to undertake a thorough review and evaluation of the Navy's proposal. The Navy should adhere to proper procedures and heed its own advice about avoiding major perturbations in the shipbuilding program. If it desires to alter the long-term shipbuilding plan, it should provide a detailed explanation of its reasons to you and the proper congressional committees. Until such time, we believe the Navy should continue to support the President's FY09 budget request. Thank you for your attention to this issue, and we look forward to your response.

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