WASHINGTON — Shipyard reorganization and maintenance process improvements could rapidly grow the U.S. Navy's fleet to 355 vessels, the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies headquarters on Thursday.
"I'm very encouraged at where we're headed," Vice Adm. Thomas J. Moore said. "We've got the resources we need; we've got a firm strategy going forward."
He outlined at the Washington, D.C.-based think tank how his plan to streamline maintenance could extend ships' lives by five to 10 years.
This, combined with new ships being built to last that meet sufficient space, weight and power, or SWAP, requirements would accelerate the planned fleet size increase.
"We've got a viable path going forward to get to 355 and may in fact be able to get there sooner than we would otherwise get there than by just building new," he said.
Moore acknowledged that for about 10 years, he and Adm. Peter H. Daly — who served as assistant deputy chief of naval operations for information, plans and strategy, neglected maintenance — diverting funds to other projects, depleting the service life of many vessels.
"We've spent the better part of the last eight to nine years digging ourselves out of that hole," he said.
Moore described the $9.7 billion budget as "resource-informed," reminding the audience that the budget is not only strategy-driven but must be fiscally realistic.
Moore added that over the next seven years, the Navy will build at least 29 more ships. He said the service continues to build destroyers and amphibious ships, while the littoral combat ship and the frigate remain under discussion at the Pentagon, with news on those vessels coming later this summer.
Looking ahead, Moore said as innovations on the new building side of the plan are implemented, SWAP requirements are being considered so new ships can adapt to evolving threats.
Building sufficient SWAP capabilities into new vessels, specifically destroyers, paired with proper maintenance will allow for ships to be used far longer and avoid retirement when they become obsolete, as opposed to becoming unusable, he said.
As for ships that were not built with SWAP in mind, Moore said with open architecture and vertical launch it would take a small investment to extend their service life.
Moore said proper maintenance requires focus on other aspects and not just resources.
He hopes to decrease training time from five years to two or three. He mentioned the use of technology in shipyards, saying that this new generation of workers learns differently and is more comfortable using technology.
He also emphasized the effectiveness in investing in shipyards to improve efficiency, some of which are up to 100 years old.
Moore referred to Ingalls Shipbuilding, a shipyard that had to be rebuilt after damage in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. After its redesign, Ingalls is "knocking it out of the park" in terms of constructing new ships, Moore added.