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California and the West

Building of Navy Destroyers Is OKd

November 24, 2005|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has approved construction of eight DD(X) destroyers being developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. -- a potential $20-billion order -- a Defense Department official said Wednesday.

The decision was reported in a memorandum after a meeting Tuesday evening of the Defense Acquisition Board, a high-level Pentagon body that weighs production decisions for major weapons deals, said the official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

The Pentagon also approved a plan to have Northrop and General Dynamics each build a ship during the design phase, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Tamara Mills.

That plan was hatched after Congress refused to let the Navy choose one contractor to build all the ships based on a winner-take-all competition.

The decision to allow the destroyer program to enter its next phase was made by Ken Krieg, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. It means that the Navy and the companies have "addressed any concerns" the Pentagon has about the multibillion-dollar program, said Ronald O'Rourke, a naval analyst for the Congressional Research Office.

"The program represents a significant potential source of future work for Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works division, Raytheon and other contractors," he said.

The DD(X) would be staffed by about 114 sailors instead of the 360 required on an existing DDG-51 destroyer.

The ship is intended to have a small image on enemy radar, to be able to launch Navy SEAL commandos closer to shore than is possible now and to support soldiers ashore with precision-guided cannon fire and missiles.

BAE Systems' Armaments Systems Division is developing DD(X) cannons that will enable the vessel to deliver 10 precision- guided rounds a minute from about 96 miles, and that is a key rationale for the warship.

Century City-based Northrop leads the team of BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Raytheon Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. doing the preliminary design work under a three-year, $2.88-billion contract awarded in 2002.

Although the Navy intends General Dynamics to eventually build some of the vessels, the production strategy remains unsettled.

The program has received mixed reviews largely because of uncertainly about its cost and the number of ships to be built.

The Navy has said the first DD(X) will cost as much as $3 billion and the second about $2.9 billion. The Navy has spent $4.5 billion of what it says will be an approximately $8-billion development phase.

The House version of the 2006 defense budget imposes a cost cap of $1.7 billion on the vessel, a move the Navy says would kill the program.

There's no cap in the Senate version of the bill, meaning that issue must be negotiated when the two chambers work out a compromise, probably next month.

Similarly, the House would give the Navy just $900 million of the $2 billion it wants for a down payment on construction funds. The Senate made no similar cuts.

The Government Accountability Office said in a July 20 report that repeated changes in requirements and cost raised questions about the rationale for the program and whether the service could afford it.

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Reuters and Bloomberg News were used in compiling this report.

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