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WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 - The Navy wants to increase its fleet to 313 ships by 2020, reversing years of decline in naval shipbuilding and adding dozens of warships designed to defeat emerging adversaries, senior Defense Department officials say.
The plan calls for building 55 small, fast vessels called littoral combat ships, which are being designed to allow the Navy to operate in shallow coastal areas where mines and terrorist bombings are a growing threat. Costing less than $300 million, the littoral combat ship is relatively inexpensive.
Navy officials say they have scaled back their goals for a new destroyer, the DD(X), whose primary purpose would be to support major combat operations ashore. The Navy once wanted 23 to 30 DD(X) vessels, but Admiral Mullen has decided on only 7, the Navy official said. The reduction is due in part to the ship's spiraling cost, now estimated at $2 billion to $3 billion per ship.
The plan also calls for building 19 CG(X) vessels, a new cruiser designed for missile defense, but the first ship is not due to be completed until 2017, the Navy official said.
The proposal would also reduce the fleet's more than 50 attack submarines to 48, the official said. Some Navy officials have called for keeping at least 55 of them.
The choices have led some analysts to suggest that the Navy is de-emphasizing the threat from China, at least in the early stages of the shipbuilding plan. Beijing's investment in submarines, cruise missiles and other weapon systems is not expected to pose a major threat to American warships for at least a decade. That gives the Navy time, some analysts argue, to build capabilities that require less firepower and more mobility, a priority for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The plan also calls for building 31 amphibious assault ships, which can be used to ferry marines ashore or support humanitarian operations.