Magazine article National Defense

Rising Costs, Sinking Budgets Steer Navy Investments, Training Strategy

Magazine article National Defense

Rising Costs, Sinking Budgets Steer Navy Investments, Training Strategy

Article excerpt

The prospect of rising costs in weapon maintenance and sailor training has galvanized U.S. Naw efforts to exploit technolo and adopt private sector businesses practices. The goal, say service officials, is to save dollars without undermining naval combat clout.

While budget planners used to focus on major weapon platform sticker prices, they must now predict and control equipment "ownership costs," which include the expense involved in maintenance, operation, and disposal.

For that reason, Navy officials say, there is a service-wide ongoing effort to reshape the fleet and reform business practices in ways that help slash system ownership costs. These initiatives range from automation technologies on ships to computer-based training techniques and simulators that allow sailors to learn skills without leaving their base of operations.

In the field of tactical aviation, for example, the Navy is cutting back on the number of aircraft types in the fleet. It is also seeking to consolidate functions performed by various craft into multi-mission platforms.

The service currently uses its F/A-18 Hornet and F-14 Tomcat for air-to-ground and air-toair attack missions, and it relies on the EA-GB Prowler for electronic warfare. By 2012, the Navy plans to consolidate all missions into two aircraft-the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; an updated version of the Hornet; and the joint strike fighter, which is now being designed as a multi-service platform.

Another case in point is the A-6E Intruder attack plane, which was decommissioned more than a year ago. The Hornet has now taken over that role. The Tomcat, which was only used for dogfights, has now been adapted for strike missions.

According to Rear Adm. Ronald L. Christenson, USN, head of the Navy's aviation manpower and training branch, these are necessary steps to comply with budgetary demands.

"The budget is tight. We can't have everything we want or we think we need. It's probably not going to get better in the future. We have to find a way to reduce costs," he says during a recent conference on naval aviation in Vienna, Virginia, sponsored by the National Training Systems Association.

Aircraft consolidation will not only occur in the fleet but also in fixed wing support craft and helicopters, says Adm. Christenson. "We don't have a spot on any of our platforms for an aircraft that's only a one-mission aircraft. It has to be multimission.

"We are necking down types of aircraft and weapons," he say. The Marine Corps plans to replace its Hornets and AV-8B Harrier attack planes with the joint strike fighter short takeoff, vertical landing model. The corps will also retire some of its old helicopters in favor of the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft early next decade.

Fewer types of aircraft essentially translate into down-scaled requirements for spare parts, training, and depot repair work. The potential for savings is huge, say Navy officials.

"We intend to consolidate into common support aircraft. We are going from seven or eight down to two types," says Adm. Christenson. "The logistics tail that goes with supporting different platforms" makes for high ownership costs.

"In the past, what really drove our budget was the procurement cost. Now we look at how much they cost to own. Life cycle cost drives us out of business," he asserts.

Manpower Cuts

The Navy's gameplan for curbing costs not only has the potential for saving money but also makes sense in the context of joint military operations involving the other armed services, says David P Murphy, a defense analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area.

In the case of tactical aircraft, the Navy must define its role in joint combat and "start doing" joint warfare, he says in an interview. Another important piece in the Navy's strategy to become more efficient is the future ability to curtail ship crews. This would be accomplished by increasingly relying on automation technologies and new training techniques. …

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