Allow us to reach more naval professionals through your tax-deductible donation now.
WEST Conference Day Two
By Jeff Ristine
SAN DIEGO – Finding ways to do more without more is a challenge the military and its contractors already are meeting in these deficit-plagued plagued times, top Pentagon and defense industry representatives say.
In separate addresses at the WEST 2011 conference Wednesday, Navy Undersecretary Robert O. Work and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding executive Evan “Marty” Chanik each said flat budgets need not diminish military readiness or the introduction of new defense assets.
To President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, “the deficit is one of the most pressing national security problems we face,” said Work, chief management officer for the Department of the Navy. But notwithstanding billions in projected budget cuts through 2016, “The Department of the Navy is in as good a shape right now as we could expect it to be,” he said.
After initially seeking 1 percent growth in its budget, Work said the Navy trimmed billions in spending through streamlining operations and organizations, becoming “leaner and more efficient,” applying its savings to other war-fighting enhancements. The F-22 Raptor, a stealth fighter, and the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle were canceled among several programs deemed unaffordable.
More recently, Gates has proposed disbanding the Norfolk-based Second Fleet. “The Second Fleet has a Cold War mission,” Work said. “It was really focused on ASW and it had a very vital Cold War mission. It simply doesn’t have that mission anymore.”
The “dual buy” decision to buy 10 littoral combat ships apiece from two contractors created competitive pressure that will save the Navy $2.9 billion, Work said, far more than the incremental costs of having two different hull designs.
Other budget strategies, such as multi-year procurement contracts, require congressional approval, Work noted.
Work’s remarks echoed comments made earlier at the conference by Chanik, vice president of business development for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and former commander of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet.
“The business of building these amazing military ships has significant challenges,” Chanik said. “Affordability is at the heart of nearly every discussion on shipbuilding….Everyone’s talking about the need to incentivize productivity and innovation in industry, increase efficiencies, promote competition, and control and lower costs.”
Northrop Grumman will consolidate Gulf Coast shipbuilding in Mississippi to streamline and be more cost-efficient, he noted, and is following a more cost-efficient and predictable multi-year, multi-ship contracting process for its Virginia-class program that instituted a serial production approach to contract management. “Our craftsmen become more productive ship-over-ship.”
“While industry is not qualified to tell the Navy what ships it needs or does not need to fulfill its missions, we are uniquely qualified to proscribe what is required for a strong and healthy industrial base and to build and maintain these ships in an efficient and affordable manner,” Chanik said in a breakfast address.
But executing the Navy’s cost-conscious plans will require greater collaboration among the military, industry and Congress, said Chanik.
“We need to drive programs toward multi-year, multi-ship block buys,” he added. “We need to provide incentives to support workforce stability and a stronger supply base. We need to support closure and/or redeployment of select shipbuilding assets to other endeavors, such as energy, infrastructure, manufacturing.”
Sandwiched between the two addresses was an hour-long “strategic dialogue” on the United States’ relationship with China as it engages in a significant military buildup. Retired Admiral Timothy J. Keating, former commander of U.S. Pacific Command, and Dr. Xinjun Zhang, a law professor and expert in maritime law at Tsinghua University in Beijing, engaged one another in an exchange moderated by former ABC television host David Hartman.
Keating, whose seven visits to China included three in active duty, characterized the relationship between the two powers as one of “strategic mistrust” exacerbated by the U.S.’s usual desire to get things done in a hurry.
“We ought to try to take the relationship…and back away from a competition, keeping score perspective and look at it in a more long-term, take-your-time, don’t be in a 30-minute rush to reach a decision because the stakes are immensely high.”
“It need not be a period characterized by mistrust,” Keating said. “We have a terrific opportunity here to develop decades and decades of business associations and some military/military cooperation which is in very early stages.”
Zhang said he doesn’t believe China seeks to challenge the “international legal order” led by the United States. “China will follow it and try to be cooperative with the other countries, good-standing members in this system,” he said.
The two sparred in a genteel manner over whether the U.S. has ever violated maritime provisions in activity off the China coast, with Zhang saying such actions are “not friendly” and Keating denying any actual occurred. But Keating added, “If we had better visibility into not just the systems that you have but the reasons why you are developing those systems, if we understood better what it is you intend to do with certain long-range precision missiles, dramatically improving submarine and anti-submarine capabilities, if we understood what you want to do with those things better we probably would have less interest in conducting these surveillance operations.”
Zhang downplayed the notion of any threat from his nation. “At least for the present time I don’t think China has the capacity to challenge the United States or even have the intention,” he said.
To a question from Hartman, Zhang said: “You say China is rising, but we prefer to say China is undertaking peaceful development and that kind of peaceful development cannot be realized if we don’t have a stable environment, domestic and internationally.”
In other highlights of the second day’s programming:
“After the Long War: What’s Next” is the theme of the three-day conference, co-sponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) International.
Jeff Ristine is a freelance writer in San Diego.
Also on the Web:
LCS Takes Center Stage at West 2011 by Raymond Pritchett
Some Perspective from the USS Midway (CV-41) by Nathan Hughes