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Strategic Defense Guidance

Posted: July 17, 2014 1:06 PM

NAVSEA Commander: Shipbuilding ‘Going Pretty Well,’ Repair Looking Up

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — The commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) is pleased with the quality of the ships being built for the Navy and the trends in ship repair backlog.

Speaking July 17 at a Navy League Special Topic Breakfast, VADM William H. Hilarides said that in his business “you have to have an infinite capacity for bad news,” but stressed that there is plenty of good news in the shipbuilding and repair business, and that the defense industry is delivering ships that give the United States “an exceptional Navy that is the envy of the world.”

Hilarides spoke of the new amphibious assault ship America, first of its class, that he recently witnessed sailing away from the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., saying it “was a real testament to Huntington Ingalls [in getting] quality right.”

The admiral also highlighted the new Montford Point-class mobile landing platform (MLP) ship that recently participated in the portion of the Rim of the Pacific exercises held near San Diego. The MLP demonstrated its capability to launch and recover air-cushion landing craft and transfer trucks to and from the joint high-speed vessel USNS Millinocket.

Hilarides is bullish on the littoral combat ships (LCSs), noting that the first two production versions, LCS 5 and 6, are the next to be commissioned and will begin a rapid fielding of LCSs that “will break on us as a tidal wave of ships.”

“I am a massive LCS fan,” he said. “I am very happy with the quality.”

The admiral also said the Navy eventually will select one type of combat system for both classes of LCS. He said the surface warfare mission package “is working as designed,” and that the mine countermeasures mission package currently is in developmental test. He said there are still problems with the ships’ water jets that need to be worked out.

The Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System currently is being installed and tested on the new aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford, he said, and that the carrier is on a good track for a 2016 commissioning.

He mentioned that the new DDG 1000 destroyer Zumwalt, first of the class, was loaded with fuel last week and its motors have been turned over.

The Navy is working to get the design and affordability of the next-generation dock landing ship, LX(R), exactly right, a discussion that “is as robust as any we’ve had,” he said.

Hilarides said that the backlog in repair of nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers is being alleviated by increasing the manning of the four naval shipyards, which collectively had been undermanned by 2,000 workers. He said the Navy is running behind in submarine overhauls but that the situation is getting better.

Regarding surface ship repair, Hilarides said his predecessor, VADM Kevin McCoy, laid the groundwork for the recovery that is finally yielding benefits and the Navy is “finally starting to see end of the tunnel on tanks and voids. The material condition of the ships trends upward.”

The ship repair trend also is being helped by investment in the regional maintenance centers.
One area that the admiral said needs attention is the cyber vulnerability of the machinery controls on ships, which have been leaving behind the old analog gauges in favor of digital control systems.

Hilarides said the Navy has had a hard time getting its message understood on the plan to lay up the 11 newest Ticonderoga-class cruisers and put them through hull, mechanical and electrical upgrades and combat system upgrades, and using them to replace the older 11 Ticonderogas. He explained that the plan was the only way the Navy was going to be able to sustain a cruiser force in the 2020s while the Ohio Replacement ballistic-missile submarine program absorbs a large amount of shipbuilding funds.

Asked why the Navy was retiring its Perry-class frigates a few years earlier than planned, Hilarides said they were “tired” and that the Navy had stopped modernizing them. He noted that their crews would help the Navy shore up the manning of its other surface combatants.

U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps