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Thread: Nuclear Power Rule For Future Navy Ships Divides Hill Negotiators

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    Default Nuclear Power Rule For Future Navy Ships Divides Hill Negotiators

    Nuclear Power Rule For Future Navy Ships Divides Hill Negotiators
    House and Senate negotiators on the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill are at odds over a provision in the House-passed measure that would require the Navy to make its future fleet of surface combatants nuclear powered.

    The Navy is building nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, but the House language would establish that it is the "policy of the United States" to use nuclear power for all major vessels, including destroyers and cruisers.

    House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss., and ranking member Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., have long urged the Navy to use nuclear power on its large ships to save long-term fuel costs.

    In a brief interview Tuesday, Taylor stressed that nuclear power would ultimately improve the Navy's effectiveness, safety and mobility by allowing ships to go long stretches at sea without having to refuel.

    Nuclear-powered vessels have lower heat signatures, making them less vulnerable to heat-seeking missiles, added Taylor, whose district includes Northrop Grumman's Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., a nuclear-capable facility until 1980 that now builds only conventionally powered ships.

    "I'm absolutely convinced that this is the right way to go," he said. "I'm also convinced that this is a generational opportunity and we'll all be dead and in our graves before another Congress has a chance to make a decision that is of this much importance to the Navy."

    But opponents on Capitol Hill question whether the language is feasible, given the limited industrial capability to build nuclear-powered ships and tight procurement budgets. The up-front costs of nuclear-powered vessels are estimated at $600 million to $800 million more per ship than conventionally powered vessels.

    "It is considerably more expensive to build a nuclear-powered ship in the first place," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. "Given that we are already underfunding shipbuilding, I'm concerned that that means we'll be further away from reaching the [Navy's] goal of a 313-ship fleet."

    Collins, whose state is home to the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard, which builds conventionally powered ships, noted that a nuclear-powered vessel would require a larger crew than a conventionally-powered ship -- an issue that is at odds with the Navy's plans to reduce crew sizes on most of its ships.

    Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., another Armed Services Committee member and a former Navy secretary, said he generally supported using nuclear energy on large vessels, but was opposed to issuing a mandate to the Navy that the service may not be able to carry out.

    "In theory I support it," Webb said. "The question is the practicality."

    Only two shipbuilders are certified by the Navy to construct nuclear-powered ships: the Northrop Grumman Newport News facility in Virginia, capable of building aircraft carriers and submarines, and General Dynamics Electric Boat Division of Groton, Conn., and Quonset Point, R.I., which specializes in nuclear-powered subs.

    A Navy study released this year concluded that the life-cycle costs for nuclear-powered ships would equal that of a conventionally powered ship if the cost of crude oil averages $70 to $225 per barrel over the life of a medium-sized ship. The current price per barrel is approximately $90.

    "Everyone knows that the price of fuel is going to stay high and get higher," Taylor argued.

    Taylor said he spoke Tuesday with House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., to reiterate the importance of the provision.

    The Defense Department has urged conferees on the authorization measure to strike the entire House provision, arguing that the Navy needs to conduct a thorough analysis of each vessel before deciding whether nuclear power is appropriate.

    "The department supports a process that includes a rigorous technical analysis of alternatives and matches requirements with operational demands of the warfighter for the projected threats," the department said in an appeal sent to lawmakers Oct. 9.

    The House language, according to the Pentagon's appeal, would "more than likely result in unrealistic requirements for future combatant classes of ships."

    The first ships that would be affected by the provision would be the 19 CG(X) cruisers the Navy plans to buy between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2023. The provision also would affect the DDG(X), which the Navy will not start buying until the mid-2020s to replace its current fleet of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
    I completely support having our Navy mostly nuclear powered. It keeps us from having to use oil that can be disrupted and also using oil that can otherwise be used domestically.

    Not to mention, these nuke powered boats can more easily meet the energy demands of new weapons systems (i.e. rail guns), radar systems, and computer systems.

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    Default Re: Nuclear Power Rule For Future Navy Ships Divides Hill Negotiators

    U.S. Mandates Nuclear Battleships
    The U.S. Navy has been ordered, by Congress, to use nuclear power in its new class of cruisers (the CG-21s). That should not be a problem, as the CG-21 is currently planned to be about 14,000 tons. But depending on the size of the nuclear power plant for the cruiser (one based on those used for nuclear subs, or the larger ones found in nuclear aircraft carriers), the CGN-21 might be a more conventional, 25,000 ton, design. The new destroyer (DD-21) has a stealthy superstructure, and is as big as a battleship, at least a battleship of a century ago, The new 14,000 tons design, is 600 feet long and 79 feet wide. A crew of 150 sailors will operate a variety of weapons, including two 155mm guns, two 40mm automatic cannon for close in defense, 80 Vertical Launch Tubes (containing either anti-ship, cruise or anti-aircraft missiles), six torpedo tubes, a helicopter and three helicopter UAVs. The CGN-21 would drop one of the 155mm guns and the torpedo tubes, but carry more vertical cells for missiles (especially anti-ballistic missile missiles).

    A century ago, a Mississippi class battleship displaced 14,400 tons, was 382 feet long and 77 feet wide. A crew of 800 operated a variety of weapons, including four 12 inch, eight 8 inch, eight 7 inch twelve 3 inch, twelve 47mm and four 37mm guns, plus four 7.62mm machine-guns. There were also four torpedo tubes. The Mississippi had a top speed of 31 kilometers an hour, versus 54 for DD-21. But the Mississippi had one thing DD-21 lacked, armor. Along the side there was a belt of 9 inch armor, and the main turrets had 12 inch thick armor. The Mississippi had radio, but the DD-21 has radio, GPS, sonar, radar and electronic warfare equipment.

    Adjusted for inflation, the century old Mississippi class ships cost about half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation). The new CGN-21 cruisers will cost about $3 billion each, thus possessing the price, and size, if not the name, of a battleship.

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