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Money for new amphib falls far short

Jul. 25, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Although the Navy has not asked for the ship, Congress is working to fund a 12th San Antonio-class amphibious ship. Here, the John P. Murtha, 10th ship in the class, is under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss.
Although the Navy has not asked for the ship, Congress is working to fund a 12th San Antonio-class amphibious ship. Here, the John P. Murtha, 10th ship in the class, is under construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. (Christopher P. Cavas/Staff)
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WASHINGTON — Powerful forces in Congress are working to buy the Navy an extra amphibious ship, and lawmakers in both the House and Senate have added between $650 million and $800 million to the proposed 2015 shipbuilding budget to begin construction.

But, even if the money is approved and signed into law, it won’t be enough to cover the more than $2 billion needed to buy the ship, the Navy’s top acquisition official told Congress Friday. With no guarantee the rest of the bill would be funded in the 2016 request, the Navy can’t begin work at all, he said.

“That billion-plus has to enter into a budget process where we've got other bills that are, frankly, a higher priority,” Sean Stackley told the House Seapower subcommittee.

“We've got competition to go into the budget and add these priorities, at the same time we've got all of the risk associated with sequestration on the back end,” Stackley added. “So I cannot look at you today and give you a sense of confidence that the Navy is going to be able to budget that additional billion- plus in [20]16. The challenges are huge, in terms of being able to fund the balance.”

Rep. Mike Palazzo, R-Miss., in whose district the ship would be built, remains a strong supporter of the unnamed LPD 28.

“I think it's pretty clear to everybody in this room and to Congress that our intent is to fund the LPD 28,” he said. “This committee authorized $800 million in multi-year procurement. I think the Senate Authorizing Committee did $650 million, and then the Senate Appropriations Committee did $800 million. So it's absolutely clear the intent is that Congress wants the 12th ship of the LPD 17 class.”

“I greatly appreciate your intent and the support for the ship,” Stackley said. “But we are still well short of the funding required to place that ship under contract.”

If built, LPD 28 would bridge a gap in amphibious ship construction at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., which builds LPD 17 San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships. The gap follows delivery in 2017 of the LPD 27, currently the last ship in the class, and the start of construction of the LX(R), a new, lower-cost amphibious ship class. The first LX(R) is scheduled to be budgeted in 2020.

Without LPD 28, Ingalls would likely lay off a large number of skilled shipbuilders.

Stackley repeated the Navy’s position that the $2 billion-per-copy LPD 17 design is not under consideration for LX(R), although a modification of the basic hull form would be considered, along with other alternatives.

“We also are looking at foreign designs,” he said. “There are a number of foreign designs that fit an LX(R) mission profile. So those are on the table as well.

“This would not be to repeat those designs,” he added. “Frankly, it would require some sort of teaming agreement between our industrial base and a foreign navy that owns that design to see if in fact it could be adapted. We're doing that for thoroughness.”

Navy officials, asked after the hearing if the French-designed Mistral class might be in the mix, said they were not aware of any such considerations.

Stackley all but ruled out a new design for LX(R).

“The beauty of a clean-sheet design is you can do anything with it, and it can cost what you want it to cost,” he told the subcommittee. “However, in going from that paper design to reality, we are very mindful of the risks that that introduces, and frankly the history that we have of underestimating the cost and complexity of going from paper to digits to steel.”

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