Navy Chief found “no surprises” in GAO report highlighting readiness deficits faced by the Service as a result of Maintenance challenges. “Every bit of information in that is information we’re very, very aware of. We’ve been talking about the maintenance challenges at the public shipyards for some time, so no surprises there.”
“In terms of the impact the attack submarine force has on the strategic environment, that’s also exacerbated by the fact that we’re facing a declining force level right now. Navy is very focused on this, and so we’ll continue to adapt.“
“All of those things you mentioned in terms of schedule adjustments, the back-and-forth in terms of taking advantage of all of the capacity in both the public and the private sector – that’s something that we talk about very frequently as we try to optimise our way through these challenges.”
The Navy this year released a long-term plan to optimise and modernise its four public shipyards that work on attack submarines. But in the short term, the yard readiness situation is “a very complex and stressed environment.”
The Navy’s shipyard optimisation plan with an estimated $21 billion in planned investment over the next two decades to meet the operational needs of the current underwater fleet, but fails to include the larger fleet planned for the future, according to GAO.
Navy Chief says “We’ve been talking about the maintenance issues in public shipyards for some time so there were no surprises there.“ Response pointed to a looming “declining force level” that involves decommissioning some boats while awaiting the production of new fast-attack submarines.
These readiness challenges come as operational commanders are asking for more and more attack subs to support their areas of responsibility, and subs are increasingly being requested to support high-end training with carrier strike groups. As demand increases and readiness remains a challenge, the inventory may drop.
The four yards are digging out of maintenance backlogs that built up due to insufficient manpower, unexpected work popping up once a ship got into the yard and other factors. The attack submarine force faced the brunt of the delays, though, because the yards prioritize ballistic-missile submarines [SSBNs] and aircraft carriers above the attack subs [SSNs].
Several instances have occurred where an attack sub idled at the public yard because the workforce was focused on a higher-priority ship, or where an SSN couldn’t even get into the yard because there was no capacity to work on it. Contractors have asked to help take on some of the SSN repair work the Navy can’t handle, and there has been discussion on how early to award that work to the private sector versus wait and see if the Navy can handle it itself.
Delays in maintenance have resulted in at least 1,891 lost operational days for the attack submarine fleet and cost the Navy about $1.5 billion to support boats that can’t go to sea, according to a GAO report.
From 2008 to 2018, most of the planned repairs for the Navy’s fleet of about 50 nuclear attack submarines have started late and run long resulting in a combined 10,363 days of maintenance delays and idle time.
The report found that the primary driver affecting attack submarines are delays in completing depot maintenance. For example, of the 10,363 total days of lost time since fiscal year 2008, 82 percent were due to depot maintenance delays.”
While Naval Sea Systems Command has a $21 billion plan to improve the four public shipyards that are responsible for repairing the nuclear fleet, the report indicated the problem of delayed attack boat maintenance is not on track to improve any time soon.
“While the public shipyards have operated above capacity for the past several years, attack submarine maintenance delays are getting longer and idle time is increasing. ‘
“The Navy expects the maintenance backlogs at the public shipyards to continue. We estimate that, as a result of these backlogs, the Navy will incur approximately $266 million in operating and support costs in Fiscal year 2018 constant dollars for idle submarines from Fiscal year 2018 through Fiscal year 2023, as well as additional depot maintenance delays.”
Congressional leaders have called for the Navy to use private shipyards more to clear the backlog of attack boats awaiting repairs. “While demand for our undersea fleet and its unique capabilities continues to rise, delays in maintaining our existing fleet are exacerbating the growing shortfall in our submarine force structure. This report makes clear that the Navy must do more to fully utilise the capacity of our private shipyards to reduce the backlog in submarine repair work.
Attack submarines have suffered repair delays in the Navy’s four public yards that give priority to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. The service has recently started mitigating the backlog by farming out some of the attack boat work to private shipyards.
While the service is doing more to send work to private yards, the GAO found that there was a lack of consistency in how the Navy exercised those private repair options.
“Although the Navy has shifted about 8 million man-hours in attack submarine maintenance to private shipyards over the past five years, it has done so sporadically, having decided to do so in some cases only after experiencing lengthy periods of idle time,” read the report. “According to private shipyard officials, the sporadic shifts in workload have resulted in repair workload gaps that have disrupted private shipyard workforce, performance, and capital investment—creating costs that are ultimately borne in part by the Navy.”
Navy said the private yards were having difficulty repairing the attack boats. “They’re struggling with the submarines that they have right now. Some of that is because overhauls are a lot harder than new construction so they’re not really proficient in it.”
“We would like to give them work on a semi-regular basis to at least create some efficiency for submarine maintenance… so that when we have peak years at naval shipyards we can choose to source that work out to the private sector.”
The Navy largely concurred with the recommendation of the report to conduct a more thorough review, “of submarine maintenance requirements and impacts across both the public and private shipyards.”
GAO found that chronic and persistent maintenance delays continue to dog the Navy’s fleet of 51 attack submarines, costing taxpayers $1.5 billion for boats that sat idle. GAO assessment determined that between fiscal years 2008 and 2018, the Navy’s attack submarines incurred 10,363 days of idle time and maintenance delays because they can’t get into or out of repair shipyards.
The Navy spends about $9 billion to operate and sustain a fleet of 51 stealthy and silent nuclear-powered Los Angeles-, Seawolf- and Virginia-class boats collecting intelligence and surveillance, striking targets on land and inserting special operations forces.
Over the past decade, the Navy spent more than $1.5 billion to support attack subs that provided no operational capability, despite the increasing demands of combatant commanders worldwide for their services.
“While the Navy would incur these costs regardless of whether the submarine was delayed, idled, or deployed, our estimate of $1.5 billion represents costs incurred from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2018 for attack submarines without receiving any operational capability in return,” GAO determined.
“While acknowledging the magnitude of these costs, Navy officials stated that there may be some benefits that could be realised from these operating and support costs since crews on idle attack submarines can conduct some limited training.”
GAO investigators cited 14 attack subs that combined to spend 61 months — 1,891 days — idling while waiting to enter shipyards for repairs. Delays inside the yards compound the total length of delays boats can face, too. The most expensive costs were associated with the Seawolf-class boats.
While GAO credited the Navy with efforts to address the chronic problems with workforce shortages at public depots, the investigators found that leaders still failed to effectively allocate maintenance periods among both public and private shipyards.
In fact, attack submarine maintenance delays have grown longer and boat idle times rose, according to GAO. That concerns lawmakers on Capitol Hill who fear lengthy idle times ripple across the fleet, affecting crew training and endangering morale.
GAO auditors determined that the primary drivers affecting the attack submarine maintenance problem were delays in completing the depot repairs. Of the 10,363 total days of lost time since 2008, for example, investigators estimated that 8,472 — or 82 percent — could be chalked up to public depot maintenance delays alone.
Although the Navy could make better use of private industry manufacturing and repair yards, the brass have yet to complete a comprehensive business case assessment that follows Pentagon guidelines designed to allocate work between the two types of yards.
Private shipyard executives told GAO that they have available capacity to increase repair work over the next five years and the Navy shifted about 8 million man-hours in boat maintenance to them over the previous five years, but “it has done so sporadically.”
Navy has lost more than $1.5 billion and thousands of operational days over the past decade due to attack submarines caught in maintenance delays or sitting idle while awaiting an availability. “The Navy has started to address challenges related to workforce shortages and facilities needs at the public shipyards. However, it has not effectively allocated maintenance periods among public shipyards and private shipyards that may also be available to help minimise attack submarine idle time.”
Public shipyards continue to try to hire new workers to address workforce shortages, but the employees will remain largely inexperienced and require a long stretch of time to achieve full proficiency, according to the report. Navy has conceded it won’t be able to support 50 planned submarine maintenance periods over the next two decades, because of capacity and capability shortfalls at the yards.
Private sector officials told investigators that those sporadic shifts in workload “resulted in repair workload gaps that have disrupted private shipyard workforce, performance, and capital investment — creating costs that are ultimately borne in part by the Navy,” according to the report.
Because the Navy’s underwater force puts a premium on safety, officials refuse to compromise on submarine training and maintenance standards, Navy leaders are focused on delaying deployments to ensure standards are met. That means readiness remains high and boats are in excellent condition compared to the rest of the Navy’s fleet of warships, commanding officers told GAO.
Infrastructure Upgrades and the shipyears in include projects like a Paint, Blast and Rubber Facility designed to consolidate and optimize paint, blast and rubber fabrication in a newly constructed 65 thousand-square-foot facility. The new facility will be low-rise construction, consisting of high and low-bay industrial shop areas, as well as offices and break rooms, training and support spaces. The project is necessary to support the increased Virginia class submarine workload starting in 2023.
The Consolidated Warehouse project will construct a new 30 thousand square-foot addition to the existing warehouse, The project completes the consolidation and modernization of a submarine component processing facility that will enhance the joint ability to receive, inspect, and distribute submarine components for worldwide fleet support. Construction of a super flood basin and extending portal crane rails have also seen contracts awarded.
As part of the conversion, the shipyard performed two hull cuts, separated the ship into three pieces, and added three new hull sections. The conversion work meant an increase in the overall ship length by 76ft. The ship also underwent similar work as part of engineered overhauls conducts of other Los Angeles-class submarines.
“It’s truly a remarkable accomplishment to complete the conversion of a fast-attack submarine into a moored training ship, the closest the shipyard has come in more than 60 years to constructing an all-new vessel.
While Navy reforms continue, they will take a long time to solve the problems GAO identified in the report but there are several initiatives that will clearly be able to help bring shipyard work up to performance standards required for the future.
1. Common operational administrative & logistics procedures
2. Compatible specification procedures & criteria
3. Interchangeable supplies & equipment components
4. Creation of standardised tactical doctrine with each logistics service
5. Improvement of operational readiness realised by service divisions
6. Conservation of workforce levels, time, money & resources
7. Optimisation of items on work orders utilised in logistics support
8. Enhancement of Plug & Play capacity, reliability & maintenance
9. Specification of requisite product quality obtained for essential missions
10. Assurance product specs, standards imposed