WASHINGTON — The head of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer program is anticipating increased demand for the ship as a result of the Navy's new 355-vessel shipbuilding goal, and growing production from two to three ships a year is within the realm of possibility, he said Wednesday.
"As a program, we used to routinely build three ships a year. Right now, we're budgeted at two ships per year," said Capt. Casey Moton during a briefing at the Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Virginia. "So if you ask Capt. Moton if the DDG-51 community is capable of increasing the program to three ships a year, it's pretty hard for me to stand here with that chart and then tell you no. I'm confident that we could do it."
The Navy in December released a new fleet assessment plan that boosted its shipbuilding goal from 308 to a whopping 355 vessels—even more than had been proposed by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign. The service recommended growing its fleet of large surface combatants, consisting of cruisers and destroyers, from 88 to 104 ships.
With the Zumwalt-class destroyer program cancelled after three ships and cruiser production already finished, it’s quite likely that Arleigh Burke-class destroyers could make up that 16-ship increase.
Moton acknowledged that much still needs to be done before he, as the program manager, would need to take action. For instance, the Navy would need to submit a budget that proposes additional ships, and any proposed increase would need to go through the congressional appropriations process.
But when all is said and done, "there may be an increased demand signal for DDG-51s, so we are honestly doing our due diligence looking at that. I would not be doing my job if I wasn’t," he said.
Whether those additional ships would be Flight IIA destroyers or the Flight III version equipped with a new radar and the most current iteration of the Aegis combat system has not been determined.
Although Moton expressed confidence in the capacity of shipbuilders General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) and Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), who alternate the manufacture of the Arleigh Burke-class ships, Defense News reported last week that the Navy and BIW have hit a snag in Flight III contract negotiations.
The Navy wants to issue a fixed-price contract for the Flight III vessels in the hopes of protecting against cost overruns. However, BIW believes the upgrades are essentially too risky to execute under such a deal and that a cost-plus structure is necessary to shield it from unpredicted expenses. As a result, the sea service is considering having HII build the first Flight III destroyer, Defense News reported.
During the briefing, Moton downplayed the conflict between the Navy and BIW.
"I would absolutely not say that things have broken down," he said of the negotiations. "Broken down is when we don’t talk. We are talking. So I’m confident that we’re going to get through that.
"Certainly, the Navy’s acquisition plan is a fixed-price contract," he added. "Within that nuance, there are all kinds of adjustments and things that happen during contract negotiations."
Moton said the service remains committed to building Flight III at both shipyards, and remains on schedule to move forward with Flight III construction in 2017. He would not specify whether Bath or HII will build the first Flight III destroyer.
"At this point, I essentially see a path that has both vendors building their first Flight III ships basically on top of each other," he said. "I’m not going to pick who is going to first. I know that’s important, but what’s most important to me is how I can most cost-efficiently get Flight III into the fleet."