Navy chief: Fewer design changes among keys to paring costs

As defense budgets tighten, and with the Navy embarking on a multibillion-dollar project to design and develop a new nuclear-powered submarine, the sea service's top admiral sees a rocky budgetary future.

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To navigate those choppy budget seas, officials will have to keep down the costs of their hardware programs, and one way to do that is resist altering ship designs, which leads to costly changes. Navy program managers and service brass must "watch this carefully," Roughead told reporters Wednesday.

In fact, the CNO said he is "sitting on this personally."

Roughead joins Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos in taking a more hands-on approach to program management. Amos has said he will play a larger role in his service's version of the F-35 fighter and in development of a new amphibious craft to replace the terminated Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

While many in defense circles are concerned about the short-term ramifications of smaller Pentagon budgets, Roughead voiced longer-term concerns, beyond 2020.

That's when ships built in the 1980s will start to "age out," he said.

"It also will be the first decade when we'll be decommissioning nuclear-powered aircraft carriers," Roughead said, noting that to take each of those ships offline will have "a couple billion dollars cost."

Officials must "begin to think about ways to take that on," he added.

He also had some tough — but measured — words about industry.

Too often, the service buys multiple versions of costly subsystems built by different defense contractors. "My sense is the contractors are happy doing it all, but we have to do better on the integration" of fewer subsystems on more platforms.

One example cited by Roughead: subsystems used to process and disseminate intelligence data.

Not only will buying fewer versions of those platforms cut costs, but "it also will help with the manning" because fewer personnel will be needed for fewer versions of such systems, he added.