“You have to build the program a year before the budget cycle starts, so you are really two years out from when you are going to spend the money that you are initially building that program for. “So you are really estimating two years into the future what your maintenance requirements are going to be.”
There are class maintenance plans and class maintenance planners for each class of ship, but sometimes the data is incomplete because an inspection regime isn’t what it should be, something that has particularly hampered the surface fleet. However, the Navy has improved its planning and prework inspections.
Regarding private shipyards, the Navy is working toward giving them more notice — six months instead of 30 days — ahead of maintenance availabilities to help shipyards drive down workforce costs by better controlling their workflow.
“What we’re trying to do for the ships returning from deployment is we’re moving away from executing a contract 30 days before we needed to start the maintenance. So now we’re back to a six-month goal.
“We’re never going to be able to control every variable. It’s not a commercial effort where you own every route and you can control every variable to hyper-optimize. And, quite frankly, we don’t want to hyper-optimize because then you lose some resiliency. But we’re trying to find that sweet space of enough predictability so that we can be efficient.”
But our lack of either planning or adhering to plan has been one of the core issues and a new 30-year ship maintenance plan would help industry understand the demand signal from the fleet.
Maintenance to ships that was supposed to be over by now threatens to snowball into an ever-larger mass of deferred maintenance as more ships in later years may have to sacrifice needed repairs to pay for the maintenance pushed off from current avails.
In the 2020 unfunded priorities list, the deferred maintenance comes from three Los Angeles-class submarines — the Boise, Hartford and Columbus — and cites shipyard capacity. The lack of capacity is driven primarily by the midlife overhauls for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers, which take priority and dry-dock space away from attack boats. An additional $51 million came from the maintenance of surface ships.
In 2019, the same factors applied: Some of the deferred maintenance was due to lack of capacity and some growth work, meaning that it’s likely that some of the 2020 deferred maintenance is the same as the 2019 maintenance.
The Navy asked for $280.6 million to be reprogrammed in a request to Congress, which would reduce the overall deferred maintenance tally, though it remains unclear by how much.
But the fact that the maintenance bill grew significantly in 2019 may not be all bad. Some of the increased cost has resulted from better planning and more comprehensive work agendas heading into the availabilities, the result of recently implemented changes.
“The Navy has improved some of its planning processes, and we have a better understanding of the work that’s required. It has resulted in better and more productive availabilities, but it has also increased the cost. They are more comprehensive
because in the past we haven’t understood what needed to be done. So we’re getting more efficient, but the efficiency is costing us more.”
While the Navy and shipyards are making some progress in cutting back on administrative and other burdens that slow down maintenance availabilities, the shipyards are so backed up that the Navy has received zero bids for several recent maintenance availabilities.
One of the most challenging fleet concentration areas for combatant and amphibious ship maintenance work have more than 3 dozen home ported with just four dry docks are available.
Couple the limited space with delays due to poor planning, material not showing up on time, expanding work package scope and more, and the shipyard has the potential to create a lot of headaches for ships in repair and the fleet operators planning to deploy them.
Fleetwide, the Navy has almost 50 ships availabilities right now, with more than 100 in the planning process. The Navy and its industry partners were just recently only completing about 36 percent of maintenance availabilities on time.
The shipyard had 20 concurrent availabilities recently, which fell down to 16. In a flurry of activity, the yards accomplished more after that-- about 45 percent of work on time but soon after only 33 percent.
“Our potential to be successful” is determined well before a maintenance availability even starts. When planning products and drawings aren’t completed on time, when items are added to the work scope late, and when materials don’t show up at the repair yard a month ahead of the start of work, the potential to be successful is greatly diminished.
Navy is trying to do better planning on its part, and ensure the yards are doing the same, to increase that chance of being successful. First is the need for a well-defined scope of work, that is finalized early, planned appropriately and has good work specifications.
To support that, the Navy has acknowledged that it is awarding contracts too close to the start of work and now allowing enough time for planning, so the Navy moving milestones to the left – including awarding a contract 120 days ahead of the start of the availability – to help the industry team properly prepare. The Navy should see a higher percentage of material arriving ahead of the A-30 mark, or 30 days before the start of the work.
“We have lots of data, and we use that data as we’re evaluating progress toward starting an avail. And we have not come across an availability yet” that has fully met the goal of having material on hand at A-30. Sometimes industry thinks it’s okay if the material arrives ahead of need, and sometimes the Navy simply awards contracts too late to support the A-30 material arrival.
Getting the material in on time for availabilities had been sitting between 50 and 60 percent of material on hand at A-30. Now, that figure is between 85 and 90 percent.
Another planning effort has to do with assumptions for how long the work should take: “you’re not going to make your schedules if you start out with availability durations that are unrealistic.”
“So we went and took a look at how long we were scheduling availabilities for, took a look at the model we used to estimate those availability durations, and we found some areas that probably weren’t giving us very good estimates.”
An Availability Duration Scorecard 3.0 was created, which took into consideration port capacities and other current data to more accurately predict how long work would take to help the fleet commanders level-load the ports, rather than creating a backup of ships waiting to get work done.
The scorecard initiative is designed to get better on-time delivery and creating predictable workloads for repair yards. The scorecard initiative includes efforts to contain growth in the scope of work packages, as primary ways to boost the shipyard’s low on-time delivery rates.
Once the availabilities begin, the Navy has a lot of requirements that bog repair workers down, further contributing to delays in the work and lengthier availabilities. A hard look at quality assurance checkpoints in particular highlighted to Navy leaders that redundancies and bureaucratic requirements were getting in the way of getting ships fixed up and returned back to the fleet for operations.
The number of Navy requirements for industry has grown in the last decades. The maintenance community committed to achieving a 50-percent reduction in QA checkpoints while still ensuring that quality work was being performed.
After being asked what requirements they’d like to see nixed, the shipyard came back with a list of ideas that constituted a 70 percent reduction. That was “a little far a leap for folks from a risk perspective,” the shipyard and Navy working together compromised on a list of QA checkpoints that represented a 50 percent reduction from previous requirements.
“We think, based on just how long these checkpoints take, it potentially – again, potential, because we haven’t realized anything – it could save us about 20 days. For the company to be doing blast and paint or something like that under the hull, to stop, to do a four-hour checkpoint callout … there’s a lot of impact to the schedule in wait time that that creates..”
This agreement with the shipyard is being tested with Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Shoup DDG-86. Navy expects the outcome will be positive and will lead to more formalized changes in the QA requirements.
“What we noticed when we started going through it was, there was a lot of duplication of effort already in what we were doing, so that was pretty easy. We really pulled back on non-critical coded areas, we took a lot of risk in cutting back checkpoints … on non-critically coded areas., so there’s a lot more work we can still do there.
“It’s less about capacity. If there’s enough capacity if we just are smarter and more willing to look for that path to yes.”
Tandem docking is a great idea the shipyard pitched to the Navy and that “we’re transparent and willing to work with anything that they’re interested in trying.” An example is the shipyard will double-dock two destroyers – USS Stethem DDG-63 and USS Decatur DDG-73 – in the same dry dock at the shipyard beginning.
There is some risk but not as much as one might think: both ships would have to be undocked at the same time, so a delay in one would delay both, but these two particular warships were chosen because the docking portion of their work scopes were almost identical.
Stethem and Decatur may diverge in the work they need done once the under-hull portion is completed in the dry dock, but they should remain on similar timelines in the dry dock as long as something “extreme” doesn’t happen.
Innovative ideas like tandem docking help, and new technologies and processes that shave days or weeks off of availabilities help. Tandem docking helps increase the capacity of the waterfront – getting five ships into the four dry docks at any given time, if the Navy chooses to fully make use of capacity through double-docking at the shipyard.
“There’s all kinds of ways to leverage that capacity with innovative initiatives and the willingness to find a path to yes. Innovative initiatives aimed at shortening the duration of the availabilities – and therefore making better use of available capacity – are coming from shipyards constantly looking for better and more efficient ways to pull shafting, do paint and blast work and more.
There is room for improvement on the Navy and shipyard side – and an imperative to improve, with operational pressures on the surface fleet increasing when more ships are stuck in port waiting for maintenance. Navy said no ships will go out on deployment with material deficiencies, so the repair industry must figure out how to get the full scope of work conducted in a shorter timeline without sacrificing quality and safety.
But systematic challenges remain that the Navy/industry team will have to continue to tackle in the long-term. “The scope of the work is getting much more complex, and that’s challenged some of our shipyards.”
“There’s an excess of work in the port. We routinely see no bids on work, especially on some of the continuous and emergent maintenance availabilities. No one has the capacity.”
The workload is excessive and the shipyards will have to look at growing their workforce in particular trade skills to keep up. They are at times limited in taking on work because they don’t have enough welders – specifically aluminum welders – so the Navy needs to prove it can provide stable and predictable workloads over the long-term.
“We have to get to the point where we’re providing shipyards the incentive to go and hire and retain the workers.
1. Capacity constrained supply market: Capacity is unavailable in required quantities or time due to competing market demands
2. Dependence on external markets: Domestic industry does not produce the product, or does not produce it in sufficient quantities
3. Diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages: Product or material obsolescence resulting from decline in relevant suppliers
4. Gaps in domestic workforce talent/capital: Industry is unable to hire or retain workers with the necessary skill sets
5. Erosion of domestic Infrastructure: Loss of specialised capital equipment needed to integrate, manufacture, or maintain capability
6. Product security: Lack of network/physical protection results in eroding integrity, confidence, and competitive advantage
7. Sole source: Only one supplier is able to provide the required capability
8. Single source: Only one supplier is qualified to provide the required capability
9. Fragile supplier: A specific supplier is fiscally challenged/distressed
10. Fragile market: Structurally poor industry economics, potentially approaching domestic extinction