Today's Times has a quick but interesting story on the Navy's efforts to build a new fleet of ships -- more than 90 of 'em over the next fifteen years.
[[Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael] Mullen is seeking a fleet that will give the Navy a greater role in counterterrorism and humanitarian operations.The plan calls for building 55 small, fast vessels called littoral combat ships, which are being designed to allow the Navy to operate in shallow coastal areas where mines and terrorist bombings are a growing threat. Costing less than $300 million, the littoral combat ship is relatively inexpensive. [It's also going to be ready really soon, Sea Power magazine notes; late 2006, perhaps. Crews have already begun to train for the sip. -- ed.]Navy officials say they have scaled back their goals for a new destroyer, the DD(X), whose primary purpose would be to support major combat operations ashore. The Navy once wanted 23 to 30 DD(X) vessels, but Admiral Mullen has decided on only 7, the Navy official said. The reduction is due in part to the ship's spiraling cost, now estimated at $2 billion to $3 billion per ship...The choices have led some analysts to suggest that the Navy is de-emphasizing the threat from China, at least in the early stages of the shipbuilding plan. Beijing's investment in submarines, cruise missiles and other weapon systems is expected to pose a major threat to American warships for at least a decade. That gives the Navy time, some analysts argue, to build capabilities that require less firepower and more mobility, a priority for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld."This is not a fleet that is being oriented to the Chinese threat," usual suspect Loren Thompson tells the Times. "It's being oriented around irregular warfare, stability operations and dealing with rogue states."But, Navy people: is that right? The Times isn't so sure. As the paper notes, "the Navy would keep 11 aircraft carriers, just one fewer than the dozen it has maintained since the end of the cold war."THERE'S MORE: Those plans to grow the fleet to 313 ships, they "would require nearly one-fifth more money each year for shipbuilding," according to Defense News. "One defense analyst said the plan would require the Navy to spend an average of $13.4 billion on new ships starting in 2007, a big jump from the $11 billion level of recent years."