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February 9, 2004

Shipbuilders' association slams Bush Navy budget proposal

Cynthia Brown, President of the American Shipbuilding Association, says the Bush Administration's FY 2005 budget is "deeply troubling."

"It cuts funding for naval ships by $100 million while increasing the Department of Defense Budget (DOD) by $26.4 billion, or 7%," says Brown. "Cutting funding for naval ships is reckless when we do not have enough to fight the war on terrorism."

According to Brown, whose association represents the builders of large naval vessels, the Navy has shrunk from 594 ships in 1987 to 294 today.

"Budgets of the last 12 years have brought only six new ships a year, on average," she says. "At this production rate the fleet will drop to fewer than 200 ships."

All this may, at first, seem a little strange to those reading the official Pentagon spin on the FY 2005 budget request. According to DOD, the FY 2005 proposal requests   "$11.1 billion to support procurement of nine ships in fiscal 2005 – up from seven ships for fiscal 2004.  Fiscal 2005 begins a period of transition and transformation for shipbuilding as the last DDG 51 destroyers are built, and the first DD(X) destroyer and Littoral Combat Ship are procured.  This increased commitment is further shown in the average shipbuilding rate from fiscal 2005-2009 of 9.6 ships per year.  This will sustain the current force level and significantly add to Navy capabilities."
 
The DOD announcement also said the FY 2005 request includes  $1.0 billion to continue development of and to procure long-lead equipment to support the planned 2007 aircraft carrier CVN-21, and.  $1.6 billion to continue development of new ship classes and technologies to be applied to a new generation of 21st century surface ships including DDX destroyer, littoral combat ship, CG(X) cruiser and the Maritime Preposition Force (Future) ship.

What seems to be at issue here is that, once the smoke blows away from in front of the mirrors, the FY 2005 request asks for less money and achieves a higher build rate by including smaller, cheaper ships such as the LCS.

Brown says "the five year budget emphasizes investment in least capable vessels for single missions versus multi-mission, highly capable and survivable surface combatants and submarines,"

And, Brown warns, "investment in small, single purpose vessels and one submarine per year will not sustain an industry to build a Navy."

Brown also says the U.S. "is losing the industrial and skill capability to ever rebuild America's sea power. Over the past decade, naval shipbuilders have eliminated jobs of tens of thousands of highly skilled engineers and manufacturing employees, and are struggling to maintain their diminished workforce. The number of companies manufacturing critical ship systems and components has been reduced by 60 percent and hundreds and thousands of jobs have been lost. Today, there remains only one company still in business to make many of each of the critical components essential to a warship's operation, and that remaining company is hanging by a thread."

Brown slams what she says is "the Administration's policy to export shipbuilding jobs."

"DOD," says Brown, "is buying ships from Australia and South Korea via long-term leases rather than ordering ships in the United States and the Navy is buying more and more critical ship components from foreign sources. National leaders are exporting America's defense and economic sovereignty with the export of each shipbuilding job."

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