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Navy must close budget gap to build future fleet.

Amid budget constraints and rising shipbuilding costs, the Navy faces a significant challenge in building its future force, according to naval analysts.

There's some expectation that there will be a "very substantial gap," measured in billions of dollars, between the costs of new ships and the Navy's procurement budgets, said Ronald O'Rourke, a naval analyst for the Congressional Research Service.

The Navy's annual shipbuilding budget normally ranges from $8 billion to $12 billion, said analysts. But some of the advanced ships that the Navy wants cost upwards of $2 billion each.

The Navy has proposed new acquisition strategies or alternative funding mechanisms to address the budget shortfalls, but these only "tend to help at the margin," O'Rourke said at a symposium of the U.S. Naval Institute, in Virginia Beach, Va.

O'Rourke said the Navy must make difficult choices.

"These are choices in terms of reducing the planned size of the fleet, the planned number of ships you want to maintain, or scoping down the designs of the ships that you now have planned for procurement--taking things off the ships, making things smaller, or less capable," he said.

Part of the problem is that the Navy has lacked a clear force structure plan, said O'Rourke. In March, the Navy submitted its 30-year ship building plan to Congress, but for the first time in history, gave a range, instead of a solid number, for its projected fleet size.

"The Navy said it would be comfortable going down to 260 ships and up to 325," said Robert Work, senior defense analyst for Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "I don't think it needs to grow substantially. It needs to change in character."

The current fleet is at 281 ships.

At a media roundtable discussion in October, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who became chief of naval operations in July, declined to answer any specifics on the size of the future fleet because of the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review. However, he did comment on the 2006 budget, which includes funding for four new ships.

"Four ships in the '06 budget on the Hill is as low as we've been, and I'm not anxious to stay there," he told reporters.

Those four ships are the Virginia Class submarine, the LPD- 17 San Antonio Class amphibious transport dock ship, the Littoral Combat Ship and the TAKE dry cargo and ammunition ship.

In 2005, the Navy funded eight new ships.

Speaking before an audience comprising industry and military in Panama City, Fla., during an expeditionary warfare conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, Mullen gave a slightly clearer picture of his intentions for the future fleet.

"We're at 281 ships today. We've come down, and I believe that number is projected to go up, and we need to sustain that projection in a positive direction," he said.

"One thing that people will be looking for coming out of the QDR is an unambiguous, that is, a fairly precise ship force structure plan, rather than a range that we've been operating with for the last several months or the even more ambiguous situation that we had, going back a year or two before that," said O'Rourke.

Until the QDR comes out in early February, analysts can only speculate about the size of the fleet.

The Defense Department intends to make the "global war on terror" more important in its priorities and also wants to hedge against a rising China, according to analysts.

"The Navy really worries about a rising China. That would be a big navy war," said Work.

"The Navy ... faces a planning challenge in trying to balance the needs of things for [its] role in the [global war on terror] versus the downstream potential challenge of countering improved Chinese maritime military forces," said O'Rourke. "The things you would want to have for these two sets of challenges are not identical. There are some overlaps between them but there are also differences between them, and in a constrained funding environment, I think it is going to be a challenge for the Navy to figure out what the balance of resources is that it's going to put into each of those two areas of concern," he said.

If the QDR places greater focus on China, then plans for building the new destroyer, the DD(X), may become really important, said Work. But if the war on terror takes precedence, then the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), may well receive more attention.

The DD(X) already has been at the center of much debate because of its high cost. Estimates range from $2 billion to more than $3 billion per ship.

The Navy plans to purchase one DD(X) per year, for a total production of 23 to 30 DD(X) and CG(X), the force's next-generation cruiser.

O'Rourke sees two problems with that plan.

"The first issue that arises in connection with a one per year rate is whether you are introducing the most critically needed technologies on those ships into the fleet in sufficient numbers, in a timely enough way," he said. "The second issue is that if you complete a 23 to 30 ship program at one per year, by the time you complete that program, so many of your older service combatants will have left service."

A possible solution, O'Rourke said, is to look at a reduced cost alternative to the current ship design. He said the Navy ought to consider building a ship around the most critically desired capabilities while cutting costs by 25 to 35 percent.

"Anything less than that, it's not worth the effort," he said.

The Navy should consider buying more LCS ships with the money it would save from cutting DD(X), said Work.

"The LCS looks better for what we're doing right now, so why not build LCS first and hold off on DD(X) until the threat for these bigger ships is more dearly defined," he said.

The cost of building the hull of LCS is projected at $220 million. It would be equipped with one of three $80 million modules designed to be interchangeable for different missions.

"Now that we're fighting a global war on terrorism, you need a ship that is fast in shallow draft, because that's where the terrorists will be. This ship seems very useful in that role, and it's designed to be modular, so that if one day you're chasing terrorists, and suddenly you have to shift over to do a power projection operation and sweep mines somewhere else, you just lift out the module, put in another module and away it goes," said Work.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, commanding general of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told National Defense that based upon his experiences, he would argue for the Littoral Combat Ship as well.

"There were things we were doing in the north Arabian Sea--I was also responsible for the ships of Task Force 58, involved in some maritime ops there--plus the asymmetric dangers, as we closed on the coast every night, I would loved to have LCSs there," said Mattis.

Two LCS prototypes are currently in production.

However, an industry analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the first LCS has come in at more than twice the budgeted price, at $900 million.

The fate of the Navy's fleet of 12 aircraft carriers also will be determined by the QDR. The former CNO, Adm. Vernon Clark, supported the retirement of the 37-year-old USS John F. Kennedy carrier earlier this year. His successor, Mullen, has said that he would be fine with only 11 aircraft carriers in the fleet.

Losing a carrier would not reduce the strike power of the fleet, said Work.

The Navy has maintained a fleet of 12 aircraft carriers since the end of the Cold War, but retiring the JFK could save the force $1.2 billion--an amount it could spend on new platforms.

"We tend to think of platforms of being real important at the high end. And at the low end, people are the platform," said Rear Adm. William E. Gortney, director for operations, plans and policy, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. "Let's not get enamored with the platform."

RELATED ARTICLE: Navy purchases 3-D simulation for anti-submarine warfare.

The Navy in July awarded an $11.4 million contract to ManTech Gray Hawk, based in Alexandria, Va., to provide a videogame technology-based simulation for the Naval Sea Systems Command.

According to its designer, Neil Byrne, president of Tactics Unlimited, the 3-D tactical simulator, called "Kill Chain," has several capabilities, including evaluating mission effectiveness, demonstrating technology, formulating new tactics and training sailors.

NAVSEA's program executive office for integrated warfare systems is buying the analytical component of the simulation.

"The intent is to make this a multi-mission module, but the initial focus is ASW [anti-submarine warfare]," said Capt. Paul Rosbolt, program manager of ASW at PEO-IWS, which coordinates research, development and procurement of new ASW systems.

The Navy pursued this simulation program at the direction of former chief of naval operations, Adm. Vern Clark, who wanted a capability to interactively model adversary behavior against conceptual systems that the service wanted to pursue.

"As we're developing new systems, there is concern that if you don't effectively model what the adversary could do to mitigate the impact of that system, you may end up buying something that is easily defeated by some tactical trick," said Rosbolt.

The Navy expects the module to deliver in the April-May timeframe, he said.

Byrne, a retired Navy captain and an independent consultant for Symmetron LLC, the Fairfax, Va.-based division of ManTech that is developing the simulation, helped design the Navy's first PC tactical game, called "NAVTAG," in the 1980s.

"Comparing 'NAVTAG' to "Kill Chain" is like comparing a bicycle to a railroad locomotive," he said.

"NAVTAG" had about 110,000 lines of source code. So far, the simulations core is finished with more than 400,000 lines of code for "Kill Chain," he said. Upon completion, the simulation will comprise one million lines of code.

"Kill Chain" programmers have relied on numerous classified sources, including the SHAREM (Ship Anti-Submarine Readiness and Evaluation Measurement) database compiled at the surface warfare development group in Norfolk, Va., to construct the performance characteristics of the ships, said Byrne.

"We are mirroring how well or poorly the fleet does in these kinds of simulations," said Byrne. "When we're doing heavy analysis work, we normally use the fleet performance database," he added.

The PC-based simulation has a man-versus-machine, or artificial intelligence, capability, said Byrne. The A1 resides in a Soar engine, developed at Carnegie Mellon University, that uses programmed "decision trees" to decide what to do in a given situation. The engine is used widely in the Defense Department, especially in the Air Force's simulations, he said. About 80 tactical decision trees are coded into the "Kill Chain" software.

Players can choose to be a tactical action officer or a commanding officer of a ship on the red or blue sides. Or, for analysis work, the simulation can be set to run against itself, said Byrne.

During a recent games conference in Arlington, Va., Byrne displayed a demonstration depicting three U.S. ships in battle against three Chinese ships. The war-fighting could be viewed via a 2-D display, known as the Naval Tactical Data System, and a 3-D display, in which players can watch the ships being attacked or ride along with the missiles being fired.

While the simulation's graphics may not awe those who have been exposed to commercial war-fighting games, people are struck by the realism found in the simulation, said Byrne. "Things they would expect to occur, actually occur," he said. "What we want is to be as real as we can."

The electronics entertainment industry spends roughly 80 percent of its development budget on graphics and 20 percent on realism, said Byrne. To develop "Kill Chain," the design team flipped the equation, investing 80 percent of its resources in realism.

"You cannot equate us to a video game model because of the enormous amount of realism it takes to make it a viable device," he said. "The gaming industry doesn't get down to that level."

For analysis work, the simulation works without graphics. It's capable of running thousands of simulations, he said.

"If you play that scenario like you're really playing, you can spend 45 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes doing this, until one wins. But if you tell artificial intelligence to play itself, it'll play that game in about two minutes. That's why we can do thousands of runs," said Byrne.

The simulation runs on a PC, which is easily reconfigured, he said. "If you want to change a ship, move things around, you can do that, and run them all again," he said.

Such versatility will allow programmers to adapt scenarios for realistic training, he said.

"How many guys do you think could walk from the bow of a Chinese class destroyer to stern and can talk about all the systems on board? I put a guy in this game, and I make him the CO of that ship, and he's in battle. By the end of an hour and a half, he's going to understand what the capabilities in that ship are. And if the next time he plays on the blue side, and he hears that ship on radar, he's going to remember what's on that ship. I say, that's training," said Byrne.

Rosbolt has also recognized "Kill Chain's" potential for training sailors.

"We think that it could be turned into a very effective training tool," he said.

The Navy has a simulation system called "Battle Force Tactical Trainer," or BFTT, that simulates a realistic battle scenario. The problem with the trainer, said Byrne, is that in order to run the simulation, "you have to have all the enlisted stations manned up to support the decision-making process." While it's useful to have all the people talking to each other, it's a big operation that takes time to set up, he said.

A better alternative would be to train on a simulation like "Kill Chain," in which multiple players eventually could play against each other or against the computer and gain the same sort of experience.

Future capabilities of "Kill Chain" will include LAN (local area network) and SIPRNET (secret Internet protocol router network) play, with up to 64 stations linked up using a classified system, said Byrne.

The simulation has potential to model for maritime security as well. "Could we do harbor defense? Yeah," said Byrne.

The simulation began with DD(x) about five years ago, when it funded development of "Kill Chain" as a technology demonstrator. The idea was to model the naval world of today, throw in DD(X) and see how the destroyer would work, said Byrne.

Scenarios included terrorists who came out with rocket launchers in swarming numbers and attacked American ships.

Funding reductions in the DD(X) program ended its sponsorship of the simulation, but the prime contractors of the destroyer picked it up, using "Kill Chain" as the mission effectiveness evaluation tool for the DD(X) preliminary design review in the air and surface warfare mission areas, said Byrne.

In June 2004, the development focus of "Kill Chain" switched from surface warfare and air surface missile defense to anti-submarine warfare. Byrne said the simulation performed 7,000 runs demonstrating the effectiveness of new and projected anti-submarine warfare systems, including Advanced Deployable System, Littoral Combat Ship and submerged underwater vehicles.

During the last few months the developers have ramped up production, said Byrne.

By April, the schedule calls for surface warfare, air surface missile defense and anti-submarine mission areas to deliver, with full capability due in June 2007.--GRACE JEAN
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Author:Jean, Grace
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
Previous Article:Navy faces expanded mission portfolio, declining resources.
Next Article:Service pondering future roles.

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