The Navy's new long-range plan to increase the size of its fleet could quickly prove unaffordable without new controls on ship construction costs, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Thursday.I know all you DDX defenders will argue the costs are necessary, but just look at the trend graph from the Wall Street Journal today. Notice the trend?
At a hearing with Navy leaders, senators questioned whether the Pentagon will ever find enough money to afford a plan aimed at increasing the fleet from 281 ships to 313. Even if more money is found, some said, it would not go far unless the Navy takes new measures to control construction costs.
"You'll never see a 313-ship Navy if these costs prevail," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., citing projections of $13 billion aircraft carriers and multibillion-dollar destroyers. "These are staggering numbers. In the past 10 to 15 years, the cost escalation has been astronomical."
America is spending the same amount of money now, in equivalent dollars, as we were at the peak of the Korean War and Reagan buildup - when we had almost 600 ships in the fleet. Sure, equipment is getting more expensive and we're not matching those levels as a percentage of GDP, but we're still spending like bandits and fighting for just 313 ships.
The outlook, according to one senator with a big stake in defense spending, is not good:
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said the proposed budget doesn't support the shipbuilding plan.
"Our fleet is at the smallest size it's been since before World War I," Lieberman said. "We need to spend more at a very dangerous time in our nation's history."
The new shipbuilding plan would increase Navy procurement dramatically, growing from the purchase of seven new ships next year to 14 ships in 2011. But the plan also calls for cuts in the large, costly ships that sustain major shipyards like Newport News.
The nation's fleet of aircraft carriers would drop from 12 to 11, while the number of attack submarines would fall from about 54 to 48. The overall increase in the size of the fleet comes mostly from a decision to buy 55 littoral combat ships - smaller, fast vessels that can patrol the waters close to shore.