Roughead Says ‘Fragile’ Ship Base Must Be Factored in Review

The Pentagon’s comprehensive review, which will include the U.S. Navy’s vessel procurement budget, must consider the “fragile” status of the nation’s shipbuilding industrial base, according to the chief of naval operations.

“The industrial base is really a strategic asset,” Admiral Gary Roughead told Bloomberg TV. The Pentagon is reviewing its future spending after President Barack Obama last week announced his plan to reduce the national debt.

“That has to be part of our calculus as we make decisions,” he said. “The industrial base today, particularly as it applies to shipbuilding, is probably as fragile as it has ever been.”

Roughead’s remarks on TV and separately to Bloomberg reporters and editors foreshadow some of the arguments he will likely make to protect his service’s interests during the review process.

President Barack Obama on April 13 proposed cutting $400 billion from the national security budget through the 2023 fiscal year. The goal extends cuts beyond the $78 billion through 2016 proposed in January by Defense Secretary Robert Gates at White House direction.

Reassessing programs is “only a piece” of what Pentagon officials will be examining, the department’s undersecretary for acquisitions, Ashton Carter, said yesterday. The review will cover the roles and missions of the U.S. military services and the force structure and capabilities required to accomplish those missions, he said.

Shipbuilding Budget

The Navy’s current 2011-2016 shipbuilding budget plan calls for spending $74.7 billion to buy 55 vessels, including $14 billion in fiscal 2012, increasing to almost $17 billion in 2015.

The largest quantity of ships is 19 for the Littoral Combat Ship. Two teams led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd. are designing and building respective LCS versions. The first two vessels have been commissioned into the Navy. Six others are under contract.

“We have a fairly lean shipbuilding plan and, as we make our decisions, we have to make those with an eye toward what is the health of that industry because that’s what gives us the capabilities” the nation needs, Roughead said.

“It’s not so much the big guys, but it’s the second and third-tier industries -- who’s making the valves, the solenoids -- because when you go aboard one of our ships it is a collection of things that come from all over the country,” Roughead said.

‘Pressures Are On Us’

Roughead, asked if he was surprised at the president’s goal for spending cuts, said “the pressures are on us.”

“There is no question the economic issues of the country have to be addressed but it is important we look at it from the standpoint of what does this nation want” the Navy to do, he said.

The role of aircraft carriers in prior defense budget reviews has often come into question “but my sense is that, given what we have been doing with aircraft carriers lately, I’m not getting the same questioning attitude ‘are these ‘relevant,’ ” he said.

Roughead cited the operation of two carriers in the Middle East region providing 30 percent of the airstrikes in Afghanistan as an example.

Separately, Roughead said he’s not “surprised” that China’s naval capabilities are “progressing faster than most would think.”

China Threat

The U.S. Navy is continually assessing and observing Chinese naval capabilities to potentially deny the U.S. regional access, Roughead said.

The Navy is seeking to develop directed-energy technology to complement ballistic and cruise missile defenses.

“Warfare is going to get faster and faster and if you try to do everything kinetically -- you know, the bullet on bullet analogy -- we are getting up in that area of the curve where improvements in performance are going to cost a lot of money,” he said.

Asked about the threat posed by China’s anti-ship DF-21 missile to U.S. aircraft carriers, Roughead said that the ships’ maneuvers could make them harder to target.

“I can tell you today exactly what the coordinates are for each land base anywhere in the world,” said Roughead. Aircraft carriers “won’t be in the same place tomorrow,” he said.

The Chinese military’s non-nuclear missiles can pose a threat to U.S. bases in the Pacific region and the U.S. needs to focus on “hardening” those bases and employ its ballistic missile defenses, he said.

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission found last year that the Chinese missiles can attack and close down five of six major U.S. Air Force bases in South Korea and Japan.

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