It’s no secret the naval fleet has more gaps than O.J.’s alibi.
The Navy is lacking surface vessels, especially amphibs. Submarine and aviation gaps are on the horizon. Even the carrier fleet will drop below requirements for at least three years beginning in 2012.
Adding the crushing blow on this already sizable dog pile is the fact that SSBN(X) will cost $80 billion — which the Navy doesn’t have. Unless Congress coughs up the cash, the shipbuilding budget will be cut by half for a whopping 14 years.
Since it’s very unlikely the Navy will get everything it needs, the question of priorities comes into play. So what tops that list? Depends who you ask.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., sits on the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and expeditionary forces. He told me his priorities were SSBN(X) (and he is pushing to boost the funds to get it), upping the amphib fleet to 38, completing the down select on the littoral combat ship and getting more DDG 51s on line, especially for BMD.
The Chief of Naval Operations listed his priorities a little differently. During a flight to Mobile, Ala., on Saturday, he talked at length about the SSGN (X), F-35, DDG 51 and amphibs. But most conversations, from Haiti aid to mine warfare to anti-piracy, came back to the littoral combat ship.
“I’m very impatient in regard to LCS,” CNO said, calling it a top priority for the service. “I need numbers. We have a capability gap over our adversaries, but I need numbers.” (You can read the story here.)
That day he commissioned Independence, General Dynamics’ LCS version. The first LCS, Lockheed Martin’s Freedom, was commissioned Nov. 8, 2008. Next comes the choice between the two that will lead to the production of 53 more ships.
Where we go from here is anyone’s guess, but the coming weeks will be very telling. The House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and expeditionary forces will discuss Navy force structure tomorrow at 3 p.m. And, of course, everyone anxiously awaits the Quadrennial Defense Review.
Stay tuned … this is going to get interesting.