Issues Related to Navy Battleships

GAO-06-279R: Published: Dec 13, 2005. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2005.

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Until World War II U.S. Navy battleships provided an impressive show of force and outgunned and outmaneuvered their ocean-going enemies. From World War II until the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Navy's Iowa class battleships provided Naval Surface Fire Support capabilities with their 16-inch guns. Naval Surface Fire Support, together with land- and air-based components, makes up the joint "fires triad", which is used to support Marine Corps amphibious assault operations. The last Iowa class battleship was decommissioned in 1992. In 1996, congressional authorizers became concerned that the Navy would not be able to produce a replacement Naval Surface Fire Support capability comparable to the battleships until well into the twenty-first century and directed the Secretary of the Navy to restore at least two Iowa class battleships to the naval vessel registry until the Secretary of the Navy certified that a capability had been developed equal to or greater than that provided by the battleships. Two Iowa class battleships--the U.S.S. Wisconsin and the U.S.S. Iowa--remain on the naval vessel registry in inactive status. Both ships are considered "in reserve", meaning they are being retained for reactivation in case of full mobilization or future need. Since 1995 we have reported several times on the status of battleships and their role in meeting future Naval Surface Fire Support requirements. In November 2004, we reported that the Navy and Marine Corps had only recently begun the process to establish validated Naval Surface Fire Support requirements that address the overall capabilities needed, that the cost and schedule for reactivating and modernizing two Iowa class battleships had not been fully developed, and that fielding of a replacement Naval Surface Fire Support capability has been delayed. An issue confronting Congress in finalizing the National Defense Authorization bill for Fiscal Year 2006 is whether or not to allow the two remaining battleships to be removed from the naval registry and be donated. Decision makers have at least three alternatives to removing the two remaining battleships from the naval vessel registry. The Navy could (1) sustain the battleships in inactive status; (2) reactivate the battleships to their original warfighting capabilities, with some improvements to bring them up to current ship standards for habitability and interoperability; or (3) modernize the battleships, their fire support capabilities, and other supporting capabilities significantly beyond their original capabilities. Congress requested that we review requirements for fire support and whether or not these requirements could be met with Navy battleships. We agreed to focus our work on two objectives. Specifically, we identified (1) mission requirements established by the Department of Defense (DOD) for fire support to expeditionary operations and how DOD officials view these needs and the ability of the battleships and current and planned capabilities to meet these requirements, and (2) cost factors that should be considered in evaluating whether to sustain, reactivate, modernize or delist the battleships.

DOD is in the process of reviewing a draft joint fires requirements document for expeditionary operations in the littorals which was developed primarily by the Marine Corps in May 2005. The draft requirements document shows that planned capabilities will help to mitigate existing gaps in joint fires capabilities if programs such as the advanced gun system for the new DD(X) destroyer and the extended-range munitions for existing DDG destroyers are implemented as currently planned. However, current and planned DOD capabilities for joint fires will not fully meet DOD's needs because they will not provide sufficient capabilities such as engaging moving targets in restricted weather conditions or providing a sufficient quantity of fires over a short period of time. DOD officials believe that although some gaps in joint fires capabilities exist now and will continue to exist in the future, the risk associated with these gaps is acceptable and will not significantly affect the combatant commanders' ability to execute war plans. Moreover, they do not believe that keeping or modernizing battleships would be cost effective nor would the modernized battleships significantly reduce the risk in comparison with other planned capabilities that DOD is funding. While the Navy maintains annual costs to sustain these battleships, the Navy has not developed any specific cost estimates for reactivating battleships to their original warfighting capabilities or for modernizing them beyond these capabilities. Numerous cost factors would have to be considered to assess such options including the cost of personnel to operate the ship, materials and labor to improve operating systems and habitability, and restoration or improvement of munitions and their delivery systems. Moreover, the capabilities and costs of reactivating or upgrading battleships would need to be compared to those of other ongoing DOD programs to enhance fire support capabilities such as the DD(X) program. Our prior work has shown that decisions on acquisition alternatives should be based on analyses of total ownership costs during a system's lifecycle, which include the costs to research, develop, acquire, own, and operate systems.

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