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In upgrading old ships and building new ones, Navy engineers must make reducing crew sizes a top priority, on par with technological additions and life-extending repairs, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said Tuesday.
"There's no question that crew sizes have got to come down," he said. "We, frankly, are not aggressive enough in employing the technologies that allow us to take people off ships. It's largely a cultural thing we've got to break through ... and we can do it, I'm confident."
Roughead said he thought smaller crew sizes were a top feature on the Navy's new generation of warships, including the Zumwalt-class destroyers — which, although they're the Navy's largest new surface combatants since World War II, have a projected crew of 142 — and the littoral combat ships, which will be crewed by 40 sailors who'll be given multiple jobs.
Roughead said he didn't have specific goals yet for how much he'd like to reduce crew sizes on so-called "legacy ships" that the Navy plans to upgrade, but he said "my objective will be get it down to the number that allows us to maintain combat effectiveness and provide for the safety and security of the ship."
"In the past, we've had some initiatives underway but they had a hard time taking through," Roughead said. "In my tenure, I intend to be a little on the bold side."
The crew-reduction priority is just one important factor in the upgrades to legacy cruisers and destroyers — Navy officials are also counting on the improvements to extend the lives of existing ships so the sea service can reach its goal of having a fleet of 313. Commanders are under pressure from Congress to increase the size of the fleet, but lawmakers don't agree with many of the Navy's plans to reach that goal, and Capitol Hill critics have lambasted the Navy's shipbuilding plan as being incomplete at best and, at worst, "pure fantasy," in the words of Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss.
Roughead said he "applauded" the "initiative and thought" that Taylor put into his oversight of shipbuilding, but offered no quarter to congressional critics in his comments at a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington. Roughead rejected Taylor's call for putting nuclear power in surface ships — too expensive over the life of the ships, he said — and he urged lawmakers not to meddle with the Navy's shipbuilding plan. Taylor and Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, have said they want to add and subtract different ships from the Navy's projections.
"If you begin to pull money out to put in other programs — the stability we're interested in, the ability to generate some cost savings from that stability, the predictability that the shipyards need is all affected by that," Roughead said. "To be able to disrupt that group of ships to simply book another ship, that you wouldn't even begin to build for some time, is not the way to go."
In the case of one ship the Navy is confident it wants — the aluminum-hulled trimaran that General Dynamics and shipbuilder Austal are offering as LCS 2 — Roughead said he remains a believer in the ship's novel design and materials, even after yard problems and problems with an earlier civilian variant on the design.
The Navy acknowledged in February that some transverse support beams under the LCS 2's flight deck had bowed in the shipyard, and that the Navy and Austal would review the cost and possible delays involved with repairs. And another aluminum trimaran built by Austal, the Hawaii Superferry, stopped service until April 22 and is laid up in a shipyard with hull cracks near its auxiliary rudders, the Honolulu Advertiser reported.
Roughead said he didn't think it was clear yet what had caused the Superferry to stop service, nor that it portended any problems for the Navy's purchase.
"I've heard it's everything from discomfort caused by the weather to the fact that they've had some mechanical glitches, I don't have the details on it. I do believe in what I've seen in LCS 2, a ship that I think a very exciting design for the Navy, and I'm anxious to get it to sea and put it through its paces."