Prospects for a proposed all-new $30 billion advanced Navy destroyer foundered on Tuesday, undercut by a study carried out for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The boom was lowered on the ship, known as DD 21, by an influential panel advising Rumsfeld on ways to "transform" the U.S. military into a more lethal, agile force.
"We didn't see a substantial difference in operational capabilities in the DD 21 compared to the other (existing U.S. Navy) systems," panel chairman James McCarthy told a Pentagon news briefing.
Competing to design the destroyer are teams led by General Dynamics Corp.'s Bath Iron Works with
Lockheed Martin Corp. on the one hand, and Northrop Grumman Corp
.'s Ingalls Shipyard with Raytheon Co. on the other.
McCarthy, a retired Air Force general, cited several other huge military spending programs as having been found by his panel to be "transformational," including the proposed Joint Strike Fighter warplane and the Lockheed F-22 fighter.
The group called for accelerating by two or three years the planned deployment of the U.S. Navy version of the JSF aircraft, currently scheduled to enter service about 2008.
Boeing Co. and Lockheed are competing to build the fighter, a highly modular family of planes to be used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the British Navy
The modernization panel was the first of about 21 such groups advising Rumsfeld to make its recommendations public. The study was undertaken by the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded research center. Rumsfeld is not bound to follow any of the recommendations. Later this year, he is expected to begin putting in place policies growing out of the reviews.
In reply to a question, McCarthy, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., said his panel did not recommend restarting the dormant Northrop Grumman B-2 bomber production line. Northrop has given Bush advisors cost estimates on resuming output.
But it did recommend giving the existing B-2 fleet, made up of 21 bat-winged, low-observability aircraft, a bigger bomb-dropping capability and more flexible targeting enhancements.
The Navy did not return a call seeking comment on the blow the panel dealt to the electric-powered DD 21. The service has been planning to buy 32 of the ships over 35 years at a combined cost of about $30 billion, or $750 million per unit after the fourth ship.
On May 31, the Navy postponed the choice of a winning design until a Defense Department shipbuilding review and the other studies were wrapped up.
In discounting the destroyer, McCarthy said the panel did not recommend killing any programs. But he said his group, which included "more admirals than anything else," was not persuaded that either it or a planned next-generation nuclear-powered aircraft carrier known as CVX was "transformational."
"The bottom line is that we felt that continuation of what we're building now is the right answer" as far as destroyers and aircraft carriers
go, he said. - (Reuters)