To build its fleet of 355 ships by the end of the next decade, the Navy is going to have to get five to 10 extra years of service life out of the surface ships it already has, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command said Thursday.
Speaking to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Vice Adm. Thomas Moore said he also wants to start building ships that, properly maintained, are meant to last much longer -- up to the half-century lifespan of modern aircraft carriers.
"We used to get rid of ships at the 25-year point ... we didn't do maintenance on them," Moore said of the Charles F. Adams-class destroyers that were phased out in the 1990s. "The reality of it is, we really got rid of a lot of those ships because, from a combat systems standpoint, they had become obsolete."
The open architecture, SPY radar system, and vertical launch capability in today's Arleigh Burke-class destroyers means the ships are equipped to remain relevant to the fight much longer, he said. With adequate maintenance, these surface ships can last longer than any the Navy has previously built, he added.
"People say to me, 'Well, we've never had surface ships go past 35 to 40 years," Moore said. "And I point out … we routinely take aircraft carriers to 50 years. And the reason we do that is because we consistently do all the maintenance you have to do on an aircraft carrier to get to 50 years. We know how to do this, and I think what we're going to do is take a very serious look at taking the service life of the existing fleet and extending it out five to 10 years."
If the Navy maintains its existing service life model, Moore said, it has a shot at reaching its 355-ship fleet by 2045. But if it extends the life of its surface ships, it can get there 10 to 15 years faster, he said. And for new ships still being built, capacity for longer life should be built in.
"We should not design a ship with a planned service life of 25 to 40 years," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. We ought to go a planned service life of 40-plus years for all our ships and build in the SWAP -- space, weight and power -- so we can adapt them going forward."
The Navy has contracted for or is now building 11 more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two more Zumwalt-class destroyers, with two additional America-class amphibious assault ships under construction or in planning.
The planned future surface combatant, which is intended to replace Ticonderoga-class cruisers, will also be "critical" for the Navy, Moore said.
He reiterated Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson's statement that it is crucial the Navy reach its target fleet size as fast as possible in order to respond to changing and expanding threats around the world.
"There has to be a sense of urgency in some of the stuff we're getting after today," Moore said. "Pace today is exponential."