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How to Fix Shipbuilding: Rep. Taylor to Gates

Members of Congress, especially members of the president's party, don't usually shout out advice on what the defense budget should be before it comes out, but Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee, effectively did just that this morning about his portion of the budget.

“For far too many years I have watched as the size of the Navy fleet has decreased. Each year the Navy changes its plan on how many ships will be built and delays the procurement of ships to future years. The Bush administration’s failed strategy of trying to build ‘transformational’ ships, such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the DDG 1000 destroyer, has crippled the Navy shipbuilding budget and forced years of delays in providing needed capability to the Fleet," he said in a statement issued by the committee.

He singled out LCS as a particularly egregious example of the “Bush administration’s strategy that was neither well envisioned nor properly executed." But he also noted "continued resistance from outgoing Bush administration officials to the common sense strategy of restarting the DDG 51 destroyer class is not helpful to the Navy and the nation. The shipbuilding plan needs less meddling, not more."

He called for the administration to press ahead with the DDG 51 destroyer and urged it not to redesign the DDG 1000, saying "there is absolutely no value in spending even more precious shipbuilding funds to re-design the DDG 1000 as a ballistic missile capable platform."

Taylor went further and offered his own shipbuilding plan. Here it is:

* Restructure the LCS program with common combat and propulsion systems between the two variants of ships. Divorce from the use of the defense firms as Lead Systems Integrators and bid a fixed price contract directly on a “build to print” basis with any shipyard that possesses the industrial capability to build the vessels.

* Truncate the DDG 1000 program. The ship is unaffordable.

* Restart the DDG 51 program. Not only is it the finest destroyer in the world but it possesses the capability for strategic missile defense, area air defense, and highly capable anti-submarine defense. Build these ships in quantity. If it improves efficiency to computerize the ship’s design into a 3-D modern ship design tool, then Navy should request that non-recurring engineering funding.

* Build combatant amphibious assault vessels, vice the non-combatant versions of the proposed Maritime Pre-Positioning Force (Future) or MPF(F). Use the basic LPD or LHD hull form for any other future large ship, including the next generation cruiser, instead of designing a new hull.

* Build a frigate on the common hull of the Coast Guard National Security Cutter. This is an affordable ship (without Navy making wholesale changes in the design) which is exactly the type of vessel necessary for 80% of the Navy’s core missions, including anti-piracy and homeland defense.

Watch to see whether the Bush administration defense team, which is fundamentally in charge of the Pentagon as we careen toward the first Obama administration defense budget, can make new policy and change its course under a new commander in chief or if it will stick with what it has argued was the right course for the last few years.

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