Chief among the factors that have raised questions about the effectiveness of Optimized Fleet Response Plan OFRP is the Navy’s inability to plan and execute maintenance in a way that will get all the ships in a carrier strike group to both start and finish their maintenance cycles simultaneously, a critical assumption built into OFRP.
To ease pressure on the maintenance yards while they recover and to save surge forces for in case they are truly needed for a wartime scenario, Navy is taking a hard look at how it generates and employs ready forces.
While the OFRP promised more reliability in how ships deployed, the Navy has been unable to meet its maintenance or readiness targets set out by the plan. The Navy has started evaluating the effectiveness of OFRP to see if the system needed changing,
It is critical for the Navy to have ability to rotate the force, surge the force, maintain and modernize the force and then be able to reset in stride – all in a system that acknowledges you have to have the proper command and control that is disciplined, repeatable, predictable, yet agile, and that gives options to command.
OFRP had several key assumptions that proved themselves wrong including set maintenance time frames, Deployment manning levels at start of Basic Phase and equipment configuration control within the carrier strike group to name a few.
Maintenance has been a big thorn in the side of OFRP. “We may flex and adjust to reflect the realities, and it’s fair to say maintenance is the number one driver of that.”
Delays in maintenance for carriers have prevented the OFRP model to be used effectively. The OFRP studies come as the service has struggled to keep to maintenance schedules of its carrier force, leaving some regions particular short of deployable ships.
“Maintenance is the number-one driver of that. It’s the number-one pressurizing driver of the efficacy of OFRP.
In accordance with the Fiscal Year 2020 defense policy bill, GAO evaluated a Navy report that was published in July that sought to assess the causes of ship maintenance delays.
The Navy report on ship maintenance looked at how factors like yard capacity affect on-time ship repairs but GAO said the Navy didn’t consider more operational factors such as how well a ship’s crew can contribute to the maintenance work.
While GAO concluded that the Navy analyzed how it oversees ship depot maintenance when seeking to understand its maintenance delays, GAO claims the service did not evaluate other relevant aspects.
“We found that the Navy’s July 2020 report identified two key causes and several contributing factors of maintenance delays for aircraft carriers, surface ships, and submarines. However, the Navy’s report focused only on causes and factors of delays related to the management of depot-level maintenance at the public and private shipyards, rather than also considering causes and factors originating in the acquisition process or as a consequence of operational decisions,” concluded GAO.
“Specifically, for public shipyards, the July 2020 report identified the key cause of maintenance delays as insufficient public shipyard capacity relative to growing maintenance requirements. “The July 2020 report also identified various contributing factors related to this key cause, including understated workload requirements, a diminishing vendor base for replacement parts, and overly optimistic maintenance assumptions, among others.”
While the Navy report concluded that growth work after issuing contracts caused delays in the private yards, GAO noted that other choices the Navy makes related to these availabilities weren’t assessed in the service’s report.
“The July 2020 report also identified contributing factors, including challenges in starting maintenance periods on time, imprecise estimates of the duration of maintenance periods, insufficient visibility by the Navy into the capacity of private shipyards, and the limitations associated with the single-year duration of the Navy’s operations and maintenance appropriations,” GAO writes of the Navy’s assessment of delays at the private yards.
“We found that these key causes and contributing factors generally align with depot-level factors that contribute to maintenance delays we had previously identified,” it continues. “However, the July 2020 report did not describe key causes or contributing factors that arise from decisions made in acquisition and operations, such as optimistic sustainment assumptions, insufficient technical data, ships’ crew levels, performance and deferred maintenance during operational deployments.”
Officials have said the Navy had previously addressed the effects of acquisition and operational choices in a prior report.
Navy is moving into the next phase of a wholesale revision of its ship maintenance infrastructure. The service has announced it had started to digitally map the layout of its centuries-old Norfolk Naval Shipyard as it seeks to bring new technology and a more efficient workflow to the public yards.
While service officials have pointed to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) as a way the Navy is pushing for modernization and efficiency in its yards and facilities to enhance throughput and readiness, some lawmakers have voiced concerns about the plan’s timeline.
As the Navy continues work on the SIOP, it has now started the modeling needed to produce a digital twin of the Virginia yard.
The Navy previously conducted a pilot program for modeling at Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility to assess various yard layouts and simulate potential designs.
“With these digital models, we can set the stage for NNSY and the other public shipyards to become a smarter and more predictive shipyard. We can track the flow of the shipyard and see where we need to make adjustments, especially on the waterfront where the workforce works each and every day to maintain our nation’s assets.
“For example, at Pearl Harbor we tracked a valve going from shop to shop for repair. At its current layout, the valve bounced around from place to place and it was overall not set up for success.
With this digital model, we can simulate new ways to layout our shipyards to help save man-days and decrease duration – and overall make our shipyards more efficient and modernized.”
While the Navy has struggled with performing on-time ship maintenance over the years, the service is working to burn down the number of days it loses to maintenance delays, going from losing 7,000 days in Fiscal Year 2019 to 1,100 in FY 2020.
The Navy expects the SIOP to cost $21 billion over the next 20 years across its four public shipyards. Though service officials have pointed to incremental work like modeling the yards as examples of success, some members of Congress have suggested the Navy’s approach could face challenges.
Critics say the Navy’s 20-year timeline for the SIOP program is too lengthy to effectively improve the yards and that the plan fails to factor in the modernization needed for future platforms, like unmanned systems, that will enter the fleet.
“You might not have 20 years in order to recapitalize these shipyards because things are going to change. In the meantime, as you’re doing this, you’re going to have new lightly manned and unmanned systems coming onboard, so you’re going to have a lot of modernization in the fleet and you’re going to take 20 years to modernize your ship maintenance yards?”
Congress pointed to the dated facilities and machinery in Norfolk that make it hard to recruit and retain employees, as well as an ineffective yard layout, as items the service needs to fix in its yard improvement effort.
“If you walk into these shipyards and you look at the machine shops, if you look at the buildings, if you look at the things that are in there, you feel like you’ve walked into World War II shipyards because they’re old. The floors are cracking. They’re old steel buildings. They’re not climate controlled. The machining systems in there are old. These are not modern workplaces.”
The congressional criticism continues:
“And because of that, that translates over to the workforce. Now you have problems with workforce because you don’t have the proper number of people, so when you don’t have the proper number of people and you try to get this work out – and by the way they’re not even successful with that, only 75 percent of the work is getting out of the yard on time, and the reason is because they just don’t have shipyard workers. “And they’re now taking the shipyard workers they have and working massive amounts of overtime, which just burns out the workers that you have, so you further exacerbate the problem.”
When first launching the SIOP efforts in 2018, Navy cited the yard layout, in addition to flooding problems at the dry docks, as objectives the service hoped to rectify at Norfolk with the infrastructure modernization push.
The latest work in Norfolk on the SIOP comes in concert with increased shipbuilding budget so the Navy can build a fleet of more than 500 ships that would include both manned and unmanned platforms. The effort – dubbed Battle Force 2045 – specifically calls on the service to grow its number of attack submarines from the current 66-submarine goal to 70 to 80 SSNs, and to construct three Virginia-class boats each year.
Navy has plans to refuel seven Los Angeles-class submarines, an increase from the five to six boats the Navy considered refueling. This refueling work is typically performed in the public shipyards.
Congress says Pentagon’s focus on building up the submarine fleet is long overdue but that it would take time for the Navy to grow its number of attack boats.
“There at least now seems to be no debate about whether submarines are place the country has to invest in more. “How you do that - you need to do a lot more [facilitation] if you’re going to get above 66 [attack submarines] in any time in the near future. And you’re probably going to have to do some service life extensions for the Los Angeles-class subs, which that takes you right back to the public shipyards because that’s where all that work gets done.”
It's great to have a focus on shipbuilding and growing the fleet but an increased number of ships means the Navy will need additional funding for maintenance and military construction.
‘Well if we’re going to increase shipbuilding, we ought to increase not only the ship maintenance budget — which is the nuts and bolts of getting ships maintained — but also the infrastructure and capital budgets on the construction side to make sure the capacity’s there.”
“Because you can devote all kinds of money to repairing ships, but if your yards don’t have the capacity to do that, you’re going to find yourself again stacked up in the yards.”
For example, USS Boise, a Los Angeles-class submarine couldn’t dive for years because it was waiting for a maintenance availability, evidence of the logjam that can happen at the yards. Boise moved to Newport News Shipbuilding’s dry dock in Virginia after waiting several years for an availability at Norfolk.
“You cannot have ships that are available to go to sea on deployment if you can’t maintain them. And you see just an accordion effect where one maintenance availability backs up and then another, and then another, and then another.”
Congress said that any blueprint for modernizing the yards is a step in the right direction and there is agreement that saying the SIOP does not go far enough is “totally legitimate.”
“Because again, the horror stories of repairs and availability delays is … responsible for the lack of deployments and … demand signal that’s coming out from places. The stories, particularly the Los Angeles-class submarines and Seawolf-class submarines, are pretty bad.
Some outside reports have expressed concern that the SIOP only takes the size and composition of today’s fleet into consideration and does not factor in future needs.
DoD has rolled out the plan to grow the Navy to more than 500 ships based on a new fleet architecture, but there has not been an accompanying plan outlining how the Navy and its public and private shipyards would maintain that larger fleet.
“Ultimately, the SIOP should to be considered in light of what it is: a plan to make the four current Navy shipyards effective in meeting the needs of the current fleet as outlined in the 2016 force structure assessment.
“Navy leadership also needs to think critically about the future of Navy shipyards in light of a potentially changing Navy force structure as the U.S. returns to an era of great-power competition.”
In addition to Norfolk, the SIOP is slated to revamp Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Hawaii, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and IMF in Washington.
While Congress has yet to unveil the final version of the FY 2021 defense policy bill, lawmakers during the markup process took steps aimed at implementing oversight of the Navy’s SIOP efforts.
Congress wants to mandate the Navy submit a briefing twice per year on SIOP from mid-2020 through mid-2025 to address several topics, like a line item for the SIOP in the future years defense program, a blueprint for how the Navy plans to improve its infrastructure and military construction projects, and an evaluation strategy and metrics for execution. The updates should also feature “a workload management plan that includes synchronization requirements for each shipyard and ship class.”
Congress pointed to the Navy’s modeling work and predictive maintenance as a way the service can plan for and improve executing availabilities on time. The service needs to take advantage of the data it can obtain from ships.
“On the maintenance side, if they will advocate an increase in the military construction budget and an increase in the ship maintenance budget to make sure that we address these backlogs –within the Navy they’re looking at doing everything they can to make the maintenance framework more efficient.”
“And where the Navy has to do a better job is they have to do a better job on the planning side, because we still see delays when they bring a ship into the yard and they unzip it and they look at it and say, ‘Well, guys, we didn’t expect to have to replace this valve but we have to replace it. “Or they open up a tank and they go, ‘Wow, there’s more corrosion in this tank than what we thought there was.’ So they have to do better.”
1. Availability of Workload and Cost Data Hampered Most Early Studies
2. Recent Studies Have More Data, but Cost Analyses Have faced difficulty with changing Accounting Practices
3. Some Studies Have Focused More Heavily on Workload Data
4. Workload Studies Consistently Found Growth at Base and Depot
5. On-Engine Overhaul Workloads Grow as Engines Age
6. Few Analyses Have Addressed Aging Components
7. Material Consumption May Increase with Workload
8. Modification Age-Related Cost Patterns Have Not Been Analyzed
9. Budgeting for Modification Life-Cycle Patterns
10. How Maintenance Workloads May Increase as Fleets Age