By DAVID S. CLOUD
12/05/05 "New York Times" -- -- WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 - The Navy wants
to increase its fleet to 313 ships by 2020, reversing years of
decline in naval shipbuilding and adding dozens of warships designed
to defeat emerging adversaries, senior Defense Department officials
The plan by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who took over as chief of naval
operations last summer, envisions a major shipbuilding program that
would increase the 281-ship fleet by 32 vessels and cost more than
$13 billion a year, $3 billion more than the current shipbuilding
budget, the officials said Friday.
While increasing the fleet size is popular with influential members
of Congress, the plan faces various obstacles, including questions
about whether it is affordable in light of ballooning shipbuilding
costs and whether the mix of vessels is suitable to deal with
emerging threats, like China's expanding navy.
"We are at a crisis in shipbuilding," a senior Navy official
said. "If we don't start building this up next year and the next year
and the next year, we won't have the force we need." The officials
would not agree to be identified because the plan had not been made
public or described to members of Congress.
The Navy's fleet reached its cold war peak of 568 warships in 1987
and has been steadily shrinking since then. Admiral Mullen's proposal
would reverse that, expanding the fleet to as many as 325 ships over
the next decade, with new ships put into service before some older
vessels are retired, and finally settling at 313 between 2015 and
"The Navy appears to be grappling with the need to balance funding
for supporting its role in the global war on terrorism against those
for meeting a potential challenge from modernized Chinese maritime
military forces," said Ronald O'Rourke, a naval analyst with the
Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress.
The plan has not been formally adopted by the Bush administration,
though officials said it had been examined by senior civilians in the
Pentagon as part of a larger strategic review of all military
programs. The proposal is not expected to change much, if at all,
before the review is made public in February, the officials said.
Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, which is home to
major shipyards, endorsed the Navy proposal when told about it
recently and called on President Bush to finance it in next year's
"Military requirements should drive the budget, not the other way
around," Ms. Collins said. "I hope that the Navy's requirement for a
fleet of 313 ships will be matched with adequate funding in the
president's budget to achieve that goal over time."
But Defense Department officials acknowledged that with financial
pressures mounting and the overall Navy budget not likely to
increase, their plans could come apart unless they could trim costs
in other areas.
The Navy is planning to squeeze money from personnel and other
accounts, and ask shipyards to hold down costs, even if it means
removing certain capabilities.
Admiral Mullen is in some ways paying for the priorities of his
predecessor, Adm. Vern Clark, who improved pay and benefits during
his tenure as the service's senior officer but also agreed to trim
the Navy's budget in an unusual sacrifice to help pay the Army's
bills in Iraq.
Now Admiral 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.
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 plan also calls for building 19 CG(X) vessels, a new cruiser
designed for missile defense, but the first ship is not due to be
completed until 2017, the Navy official said.
The proposal would also reduce the fleet's more than 50 attack
submarines to 48, the official said. Some Navy officials have called
for keeping at least 55 of them.
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 not 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.
The plan also calls for building 31 amphibious assault ships, which
can be used to ferry marines ashore or support humanitarian
"This is not a fleet that is being oriented to the Chinese threat,"
said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy
research center in Arlington, Va. "It's being oriented around
irregular warfare, stability operations and dealing with rogue
But the Navy would keep 11 aircraft carriers, just one fewer than the
dozen it has maintained since the end of the cold war. Retiring the
37-year-old John F. Kennedy could save $1.2 billion a year.
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company