US Navy Seeks Smaller, More Powerful Ships


03 December, 2017

The US Navy is answering criticisms that its combat ships are fast but lack the firepower and armor to survive a battle at sea. It says it wants new ships that are slower and smaller – but more powerful – than its existing ships.

The Navy has asked designers for drawings of such warships. It wants them to be able to shoot down airplanes, attack other ships and counter submarines.

Loren Thompson is a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute in Virginia. He says the "Navy has decided that speed is less important than having a warship with sufficient weapons to defend itself."

The Navy wants 20 of the new ships. It does not want them to be costly. It has directed shipbuilders to use an existing design to speed up the process of designing and building the ships. It also wants the shipbuilders to provide drawings for the new ships next month and build them by 2020 or 2021.

In this Sept. 18, 2015, photo released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman is honored at a decommissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va. (Shane A. Jackson/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this Sept. 18, 2015, photo released by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile frigate USS Kauffman is honored at a decommissioning ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va. (Shane A. Jackson/U.S. Navy via AP)

Large Navy shipbuilders like Bath Iron Works in the northeastern state of Maine and Ingalls Shipbuilding in the southern state of Mississippi are among the companies expected to seek Navy contracts. Smaller shipyards in Wisconsin and Alabama are also expected to compete for the contract to build the ships.

The Trump administration has announced a plan to increase the number of ships in the Navy. The Navy has a goal of 355 ships.

The plan to build the small but powerful new ships is a change for the Navy, which is learning lessons from earlier ship designs. Those ships were supposed to be a cost-effective way to deal with post-Cold War threats. The fast ships were supposed to be easily altered to serve changing missions.

But the alteration plans have been delayed, and the cost of the ships has risen. The Government Accountability Office, which examines government spending, also questioned the ships' ability to survive in battle.

The Congressional Research Service said the Navy wants to spend no more than $950 million for each ship. But the Navy says the cost per ship could be closer to $800 million, as no new technology needs to be created for the new ships. New designs and new technologies in earlier ships caused the final costs to be much higher than original estimates.

Dirk Lesko is the president of Bath Iron Works in Maine. He says his designers examined both American and foreign ships to meet the Navy's demands for the new ships. The shipyard worked with a Spanish company and used an existing design from a Spanish navy ship.

Mike Keenan is the president of the Machinists Union Local S6, the shipyard's largest union. He says the shipyard's 5,700 workers are eager for the chance to build the new ships.

"We know how to build them. We're ready to build more," he says.

I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.

Associated Press Correspondent David Sharp reported this story from Bath, Maine. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the story for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

armor - n. a hard covering that protects something (such as a vehicle or an animal)

counter- v. to do something in defense or in response to something

sufficient- adj. having or providing as much as is needed

contract - n. a legal agreement between people, companies, etc.

alter- v. to change (something)

mission - n. a specific military or naval task

eager- adj. very excited and interested