Posted: October 26, 2017 6:24 PM

Stable Funding, Shipbuilding Capacity Are Key to Bolstering Expeditionary Assets

By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The expeditionary ships and systems, teamed with Marines and Naval Special Warfare operators, can provide answers for most of the problems facing combatant commander in the emerging security environment, but they face challenges of the numbers of ships, the age of some platforms and integrating the F-35B fifth-generation fighters, the people in charge of those programs said Oct. 26.

The officers and civilian executives in the Expeditionary Warfare Division, N95, and the aviation and expeditionary platforms under the Program Executive Office Ships also expressed concerns about the problems created by the lack of funding stability, a reference to Congress’ chronic inability to pass appropriations and resorting to continuing resolutions.

The two panels of officials appearing on the last day of the National Defense Industry Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference were asked if they thought the shipbuilding industry could increase production enough to sharply reduce the time needed to reach the Navy’s goal of a 355-ship battle fleet, which earlier speakers estimated would be in the 2030s at the earliest.

Amphibious ships officials in N95 said the projection for reaching their goal of 38 operational Gators was 2027.

Rear Adm. William Galinis, Program Executive Officer, Ships, and several of his program managers expressed guarded confidence that the big shipyards had the capacity to increase their output, but worried about them getting enough skilled workers and the ability of the supply chain, consisting of hundreds of frequently smaller firms, to ramp up enough.

“What industry is waiting on is a clear signal from the Navy,” Galinis said, while two of his program managers cited the problem with unstable funding.

“The key is stability,” in the budget process, said Capt. Brian Metcalf, manager of the LP 17 and LX(R) programs. “If you can get that stable, we can move on the Navy side” and industry could respond.

“Waiting until December doesn’t help anyone.” Metcalf said, referring to the Dec. 9 expiration of the current continuing resolution.

Thomas Rivers, program manager for amphibious ships, said the two biggest shipbuilders already made investments to increase capacity, but asked the government to show stability before they would make more investments.

Marine Maj. Gen. David Coffman, director, Expeditionary Warfare, said the Navy, the Marines plus special operation forces can provide the combatant commanders “ready, responsive forces, that can operate in contested environments across the range of military operations.

“If you look at our portfolio ... we are the answer to most of the problems,” he said.

Coffman and his program managers forcefully stated the requirement for 38 amphibious warships, consisting of 12 “big-deck” amphibious assault ships, 13 LPD 17 amphibious transport docks and 13 LX(R)s, the planned replacement for the aged LSD dock landing ship.

Program managers for the big decks under Coffman and Galinis listed a host of challenges they face to make those ships able to handle the F-35s. They included making the flight decks able to handle the intense heat generated by the F-35’s vertical landings, making the F-35’s sensor systems compatible with the ship systems and safe storage of the lithium ion batteries the jets use.

Three of the big decks currently are certified F-35 ready — Wasp, Essex and America.

Officials from both panels cited the requirement to make the new classes of auxiliary or support ships — primarily the expeditionary transport dock and the expeditionary mobile base — part of the future distributed expeditionary operations mission. But they also noted the challenges of putting those ships, built to commercial rather than naval combat standards, into contested environments.

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