The top U.S. Navy officer said Thursday he would recommend the service stick to its plan to build a multi-billion-dollar class of new destroyers despite a crunch on funds for new warships.
"I'd love to have DD-21," Admiral Vernon Clark, the chief of naval operations, said, referring to the Zumwalt- class destroyer designed chiefly to support Marines ashore with long-range firepower. He called the program "central to our transformation effort" for the 21st century.
The DD-21 is one of the biggest U.S. arms programs apparently in danger of being killed in Defense Department strategy reviews under way.
On May 31, the Navy announced it was delaying the selection of a team to build as many as 32 of the ships at a combined value of up to $30 billion pending the outcome of the studies.
The rival teams - headed by General Dynamics Corp.'s Bath Iron Works Shipyard and Lockheed Martin Corp. on the one hand and by Litton Industries' Ingalls shipyard division and Raytheon Co. on the other - had been scheduled to make their "best and final" contract proposals to the Navy in early June.
The program's prospects have been further clouded by Air Force Gen. James McCarthy, who headed a panel on "transformation" for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
McCarthy last month said that both the DD-21 and the experimental CVN(X) aircraft carrier were absent from his panel's report because, "We were not persuaded they were truly transformational."
Clark spelled out his recommendation to build the new destroyer during a break in his testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. He was discussing the Navy's $99 billion amended budget request for fiscal 2002, which starts Oct. 1.
The budget provides for six new ships and 88 naval aircraft next year, three fewer than needed to sustain the approximately 316-ship Navy recommended in the 1997 congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review, the most recent such blueprint.
The budget also provides continued research and development funds for the DD-21, which features electric-drive engines, reduced manning concepts, advanced radar technology and a powerful new gun.
At current funding levels, the Navy would shrink to 230 ships over time, not enough to cover the force projection requirements of the United States
for the foreseeable future, Clark said. Low orders were also undercutting the defense industrial base.
"We are paying a premium in program cost today and realizing substantial cost growth because of production inefficiencies due to the lack of economies of scale," he said, calling for "level funding" for procurement that would let the Navy work more closely with the shipbuilding industry.