The general state of the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding programs is good, two senior service officials claimed, and construction programs apparently will not be slashed to meet an expected Pentagon-wide $263 billion reduction in spending.
THE U.S. NAVY'S top acquisition official said Jan. 12 that shipbuilding remains a “priority.” The new littoral combat ship Coronado (LCS 4) is shown Jan. 9 just before being launched. (U.S. Navy photo via Austal USA)
"We've placed a priority on shipbuilding," Sean Stackley, the Navy's top acquisition official, told reporters Jan. 12. "You can see a lot of alignment between the defense strategy and what the Navy does."
The Obama administration's fiscal 2013 budget request, scheduled to be sent Feb. 6 to Congress, will show "various impacts," Stackley said, "but we've been careful to hold to the core capabilities we need in our shipbuilding program. It's not just platforms, it's the capability we need in terms of weapon systems to be able to meet the defense strategy."
Speaking at the Surface Navy Association's symposium in Washington, Stackley commented on the progress of the Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), a program to develop a primary sensor to go with the Aegis weapon system. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman are competing under-development contracts for the radar, which will be installed on Arleigh Burke-class destroyers beginning with those bought in 2016.
A downselect on the AMDR is expected to take place later this year.
"The AMDR program is going great. And I'm not blowing smoke," Stackley adamantly declared.
"I spent a very concerted couple-week period this past fall, because I've got to see for myself. So I went up to Raytheon, I went to Lockheed Martin, I went to Northrop Grumman.
"I spent a day at each going through not just the data, but looking at the hardware, sitting down and talking with the engineers individually. Getting as much information as I could to corroborate what I'm seeing inside the Navy.
"That program is going very well."
He noted that the AMDR effort is building on existing technology.
"The maturity of the technology is far beyond where folks in the building believed it could be. And the costs that we are seeing are much better than we had estimated just a couple of years ago," he said.
"And the performance - we're at the upper end of the estimated performance range. I'm bullish on AMDR."
With the AMDR installed, the new destroyers will become Flight III of the Arleigh Burke class, supplanting current Flight IIA ships.
Stackley reminded a lunch audience that the Navy would seek a multiyear procurement (MYP) in the new budget for destroyers from 2013 through 2017. Congressional MYP authorization, however, is normally based on design maturity and consistency.
Navy Undersecretary Bob Work, speaking with reporters at the symposium, explained that, for a brief time, the service plans to order both Flight IIAs and IIIs.
"There's an overlap date between the IIAs and the Flight IIIs," he said, with another block buy planned separately for the AMDR ships.
Details will arrive on Jan. 26, when DoD officials preview the 2013 budget request.
7 CRUISERS TO BE CUT?
Earlier, Work, speaking to a symposium audience, laid out the capabilities of the fleet being built through 2022 - and might have inadvertently let slip one of the secret numbers about future ship cuts.
"We're going to wind up with 72 Burkes, and 15 - uh excuse me, I'm not going to tell you any numbers. Rewind the tape," he said, to sympathetic laughter from the professional audience.
The Burke number would reflect the total number of Flight I, II and IIA ships, but the Navy currently operates 22 Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers. Speculation has been rampant that some of the cruisers, which range in age from 25 years old to 17, might be decommissioned in line with budget reductions. No officials have commented for the record, but most guesses range between six and nine ships.
Work may have let slip that seven Ticos will be put down early.
But he also exuberantly extolled the virtues of the forces the Navy will have in the future.
"Everyone focuses in on: it's going to be 313 ships, 310," he said. "What the hell do we care? I have BAMS," the Broad-Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft based on the Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
"Those numbers don't care," Work said. "How many ships would it take to provide the same maritime domain awareness as those BAMS? It's a lot bigger than a [Reagan-era] 600-ship Navy, I guarantee you that."
With the new fleet, "we span the globe. We can concentrate because we can get there in a hurry on 35 knots on the JHSV [Joint High Speed Vessel], 40-plus knots on the LCS [Littoral Combat Ship]. Yeah, it burns a lot of fuel," he said, referring to the LCS. "Yeah, we have refuelers. We get there quickly. We can configure for what we need. We have enormous payload capacity in our big boys.
"This is a different fleet. This is a more powerful fleet. I will take this fleet over a 600-ship Navy … in a heartbeat," Work said, his voice booming.
"One thing I would regret, quite frankly, is I would rather have 100 SSNs [nuclear-propelled attack submarines]. But in almost every other case, I'll take this," he said."
"And if you aren't excited" about the new fleet, he concluded, "you don't have a pulse."
SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgaria and Israel signed military accords for joint army trainings and defense industry cooperation Jan. 15, according to Bulgaria's defense ministry.
The deals were signed during a two-day visit by Bulgarian Defence Minister Anyu Angelov, who arrived in Tel Aviv on Jan. 15 for talks with his Israeli counterpart Ehud Barak.
The training accord "aimed to broaden defense cooperation between the two countries through conducting joined training exercises," his ministry said in a statement.
Angelov and Barak also oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in the defense industry, including the production and trade of defense produce and joint research and development work.
The defense industry is an important employer in Bulgaria. According to a recent media report, in 2011 Bulgaria exported $380 million (300 million euros) worth of arms, although the sector has shrunk to a 10th of its Soviet-era size.
JERUSALEM - Israel and the United States have agreed to postpone a major military defence exercise scheduled for spring, a senior security official Jan. 15 Sunday, amid rising regional tension over Iran's nuclear programme.
"Israel and the United States have agreed to postpone the maneuver planned for spring," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"The exercises will take place between now and the end of 2012," the official added, without elaborating.
Earlier, public radio said the "Austere Challenge 12" exercise would be pushed back to the end of 2012 over unspecified budgetary concerns, citing military sources.
Israeli Army radio, citing a defense official, said it was being postponed to avoid "unnecessary headlines in such a tense period."
The joint maneuver was to have been the biggest yet between the two allies and was seen as an opportunity to display their joint military strength at a time of growing concern about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Israel, the United States and much of the international community accuse Iran of using its nuclear program to mask a weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies.
The postponement appeared to suggest fears the exercise could dangerously ramp up regional tensions, at a time when Iran has already threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz - a chokepoint for one fifth of the world's traded oil - in the event of a military strike or severe tightening of international sanctions over its nuclear program.
Meanwhile, the United States sent Iran a letter over its threatened closure of the Strait of Hormuz, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said Jan. 15, without revealing the letter's contents.
"The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, sent a letter to Mohammad Khazaie, Iran's U.N. representative, which was conveyed by the Swiss ambassador, and finally Iraqi President Jalal Talabani delivered its contents to officials" in Iran, the official IRNA news agency quoted Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.
"We are in the process of studying the letter and if necessary we will respond."
Last month, the Israelis insisted the joint maneuvers were planned in advance and denied they were related to Iran.
"The exercise scenario involves notional, simulated events as well as some field training and is not in response to any real-world event," the military said.
The postponement was not expected to affect a visit to Israel by top U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who is scheduled to arrive this week and meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz.
But the delay was announced as reports suggested unease in U.S.-Israeli relations over the best response to Iran's nuclear program, and after an Israeli official voiced "disappointment" at Washington's approach.
Washington has spearheaded a push for international sanctions against Iran, including on its oil exports and financial institutions.
But Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told public radio he thought U.S. President Barack Obama's administration should be tougher.
"France and Britain understand that the sanctions must be strengthened, in particular against the Iranian Central Bank," Yaalon said. "The U.S. Senate is also in favor, but the U.S. government is hesitating, fearing higher oil prices in an election year. It's disappointing."
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, speaking Jan. 15 ahead of a trip to Britain, also accused the international community of dragging its feet.
"It is regrettable that the international community has not yet used all the means at its disposal to stop the Iranian nuclear program," he told public radio.
Israel has made no secret of its desire to see crippling sanctions imposed on Iran in a bid to slow its nuclear development, and reports suggest it has also taken other actions to delay the program.
The Jewish state is suspected of involvement both in a computer worm that reportedly set back Iran's nuclear efforts, as well as a campaign of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Media reports have pointed the finger at Israel's intelligence agency Mossad.
Foreign Policy magazine reported that Israel's actions had created friction with Washington, and The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 13 that U.S. officials had warned Israel against unilateral military action against Iran.
Yaalon said Jan. 15 that a military strike remained a last resort for Israel.
"Israel must defend itself. I hope that we will not arrive at that point," he said.