Information on Options for Naval Surface Fire Support

GAO-05-39R: Published: Nov 19, 2004. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2004.

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Land-, air-, and sea-based components form the "fires triad" that is used to support Marine Corps amphibious assault operations. The sea-based part of the fires triad is referred to as Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS). The retirement of the last Iowa class battleship left a void in the NSFS part of the fires triad. To field a replacement NSFS capability, the Navy developed a two-phased plan in 1994. In the near-term to midterm, it would modify the capability of 5-inch guns on existing destroyers and cruisers, and develop extended-range guided munitions for the modified 5-inch gun. In the far term, it would field a sufficient number of new destroyers fitted with an even-longerrange advanced gun system and ultimately a very-long-range electromagnetic gun or "Rail Gun." However, in 1996, congressional authorizers became concerned that the Navy would not be able to produce a replacement NSFS capability comparable to the battleships until well into the twenty-first century. In that year's Defense Authorization Act, the Congress directed the Secretary of the Navy to restore at least two Iowa class battleships to the naval vessel registry until a capability was developed equal to or greater than that provided by the battleships. By 1999 the Navy had placed the Iowa and Wisconsin battleships back on the naval vessel registry and has been maintaining them in an inactive state since then. In recent years, the Navy's efforts to develop a NSFS replacement capability have not progressed as quickly as planned. Given concerns about the gap in NSFS capability, the Chairman, Subcommittee on Projection Forces House Committee on Armed Services requested that we review (1) the validated requirements for NSFS, (2) the estimated cost and schedule for reactivating and modernizing two Iowa class battleships to provide NSFS, and (3) the status of Navy efforts to develop a replacement NSFS capability.

The Navy and Marine Corps have only recently begun the process to establish validated NSFS requirements that address the overall capabilities needed and the balance between different systems that will be required to provide effective, continuous, and sustaining support fire for forces operating ashore. Validated requirements for some specific systems have been established, however. The cost and schedule for reactivating and modernizing two Iowa class battleships have not been fully developed. However, the Navy believes that reactivation of the battleships should not be pursued for a number of reasons. These include, among other things, manpower requirements and modernization needed to integrate the battleships into today's modern Navy. Therefore, the Navy has no plans to conduct the detailed studies needed to identify the full extent of needs and costs. The Navy's fielding of a replacement NSFS capability has been delayed. The near-term and midterm efforts to extend the range of munitions fired from the 5-inch guns on its cruisers and destroyers have been delayed from 2001 to possibly as late as 2011, but other program options have been discussed including the option of canceling or reducing the extended-range munitions program to fund development of another gun system. Far-term plans to help fill the NSFS gap by 2015 using a new destroyer with advanced gun systems were revised in 2001 to employ a different destroyer concept--the DD (X). The Navy currently expects sufficient numbers of DD (X) destroyers to be ready to help fill the NSFS gap by 2018 at the earliest.

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