November 23, 2005

Pentagon Moves Ahead with New Destroyer

By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has opted to move ahead with a new multibillion-dollar destroyer being co-developed by Northrop Grumman Corp. and General Dynamics, Navy officials said on Wednesday.

Ending speculation the project might be killed, the Defense Department cleared a Navy plan to let each company go ahead with detailed design work on the ship, the centerpiece of the Navy's plans for its future surface fleet, the officials said.

The Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, Kenneth Krieg, approved the next phase of work at a meeting on Tuesday evening, said Lt. John Gay, a Navy spokesman.

Under an agreed "dual lead ship" strategy, each company will build a ship of its own to meet requirements set by the Pentagon and the Navy, said Gay. On completion, the Navy will recommend to the Pentagon how to acquire the rest of a projected $18 billion DD(X) fleet.

The ship will have substantially lower radar and acoustic

"signatures" -- making it harder for an enemy to hit -- and highly automated to cut crew size by more than half compared with current destroyer levels.

It will incorporate new technologies that would also be used in a new aircraft carrier and a new cruiser. The Navy hopes the first DD(X) destroyer will be delivered in 2012.

Cheryl Irwin, a Pentagon spokeswoman, confirmed that Kreig chaired a DD(X)-related meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, the high-level panel that weighs production decisions for major weapons systems.

At issue was the program's "Milestone B" review -- the decision on whether to let it advance to detailed design work. This is a "significant event for an acquisition program," said Ronald O'Rourke, a naval analyst at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service.

The Navy had been seeking Pentagon approval to use fiscal 2007 funding to let the two companies -- Los Angeles-based Northrop and General Dynamics of Falls Church, Virginia -- each move to the next phase of the project.

Congress killed the Navy's earlier "winner-take-all" approach to acquiring the DD(X). Navy officials had said picking one yard to build the ship would save about $3 billion in an $18 billion program.

The first DD(X) is projected to cost about $3.3 billion, with the cost of subsequent ships to decline as more are built.

At Tuesday's meeting, the Defense Department agreed on funding issues that would let the Navy go ahead with system development and demonstration, a big-money phase of the program, Navy officials said.

Northrop and General Dynamics had no immediate comment.