Congressional Budget Office - March 1997



Annual Savings							Five-Year
Savings from			(Millions of dollars)		Cumulative
the 1997 Plan		1998	1999	2000	2001	2002	Total

Budget Authority	188	140	116	31	0	475

Outlays			91	138	126	76	28	459

NOTE: The 1997 plan includes no funds for follow-on ships.

The arsenal ship is a relatively new concept in ship design. It is being developed primarily to attack targets on land. Each of six planned ships would contain about 500 vertical launch system (VLS) cells. Those cells are tubes used to fire missiles and are currently deployed in smaller numbers on Navy cruisers, destroyers, and sub-marines. Because ordnance aboard the arsenal ship would be fired remotely by other ships, aircraft, or ground units using targeting data that they developed, the arsenal ship would not require expensive sensors and combat systems.

The Administration's 1997 plan continues accelerated development and fielding of the first ship (a demonstrator) by the Navy and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under an advanced technology demonstration program. According to a Navy official familiar with the program, if development proceeds satisfactorily, a decision to procure a second ship will be made in 2000 or 2002.

This option would cancel research and development of the arsenal ship, saving $91 million in outlays in 1998 and almost $500 million during the 1998-2002 period. Those savings do not factor in the costs to procure follow-on production ships; the 1997 plan funds only the first vessel. Total savings from not completing the program are estimated to exceed $3 billion. (Those savings assume that the Navy buys a second ship in 2002 and four other ships from 2003 to 2006.) In addition, savings of about $2 billion would result from not buying expensive missiles to fill the 3,000 additional vertical launch cells. (Those savings assume that the Navy procures 3,000 additional Tomahawks, which are used to strike fixed targets on shore at long ranges.)

Proponents of the arsenal ship believe it would be an inexpensive way to give the fleet additional firepower that could be deployed quickly during a crisis or war. Existing technology would be used for the ship; omitting costly sensors and combat systems would allow personnel costs to be kept low by limiting the size of the crew to no more than 50. The ships would be kept overseas in key areas so that they could respond more quickly to crises. Their high-capacity magazines might be used to hit targets early in a war when enemy air defenses would make it too risky to use manned aircraft. Also, the longer-range missiles fired from the ships might be used to support Marines carrying out their new doctrine of maneuvering deep into enemy territory.

Nonetheless, the arsenal ship may not be needed. Opponents of the program maintain that the fleet does not need more VLS cells, especially ones so vulnerable to enemy attack. Even without arsenal ships, by the end of the decade the fleet will have over 7,000 VLS cells on its cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. Unlike the arsenal ship, those ships can perform multiple missions. Critics argue that the VLS cells on the other ships (the maximum number of cells per ship is about 120) are not as vulnerable as those on the arsenal ship. The arsenal ship, they claim, puts too many weapons on a single platform, making it a lucrative and potentially explosive target for enemy aircraft, submarines, and patrol boats. In addition, because the Navy has traditionally assigned a higher priority to buying ships and aircraft than it has missiles, it has a shortage of Tomahawk missiles even for the existing VLS cells. Furthermore, according to one critic, building a ship whose sensors and combat systems are remotely located makes the questionable assumption that data links between ships cannot be interrupted or jammed. Those data links could be the weakest part of the concept of the arsenal ship.

Opponents also maintain that the Navy is building the wrong kind of ship. Although the Department of the Navy's post-Cold War doctrine "Forward from the Sea" emphasizes the role of the Marine Corps, the arsenal ship may not be ideal for supporting those forces before they go ashore (by bombarding the shore before an amphibious assault) and while they are there. Critics argue that with about 500 VLS cells, the ship would be primarily a strike weapon poised to hit distant, high-value targets in the enemy's rear area with very accurate and expensive missiles. Therefore, the arsenal ship would compete with the plethora of other assets, such as the B-2 bomber, capable of performing the strike mission.

Thus, opponents assert that scarce resources should not be used to buy more VLS cells. Instead, to suppress enemy forces before and during an amphibious assault, the Marines need the support of ships that can provide responsive, sustained, high-volume fire from guns shooting relatively inexpensive shells. According to that argument, such fire support during the Persian Gulf War was provided by the now-retired battleships with 16-inch guns, despite the availability of missiles in VLS cells on ships afloat. Furthermore, unlike guns, missiles cannot be reloaded into VLS cells while the ship is at sea. (The space and weight limitations of the arsenal ship would permit a gun system to be added in the future, but the demonstrator ship will not have one.)

Although the Navy intends to build the arsenal ship inexpensively, it is exploring ways to reduce the ship's vulnerability to attack in littoral areas through stealth techniques that inhibit detection. According to one critic, however, spending a lot on stealth technology may be unwarranted because the vessel would probably be protected by the sophisticated defenses of an accompanying battle group.