Navy ships routinely undergo depot-level maintenance, which includes major repair, overhaul, or complete rebuilding of weapon systems needed for ships to reach their expected service life. These scheduled periods of ship maintenance and modernization are referred to as maintenance availabilities.
Under the Optimized Fleet Response Plan: PIA - Planned Incremental Availability - is a 6-month availability in which ship maintenance and modernization are performed. DPIA - Docking Planned Incremental Availability - is a 16-month dry-docking availability in which ship maintenance and modernization are performed. RCOH - Refuelling and Complex Overhaul - is a 44-month availability in which the ship’s two nuclear reactors are refueled and a significant amount of maintenance and modernization is performed.
Maintenance availabilities for the nuclear elements of the fleet (i.e., aircraft carriers and submarines) are performed at the four Naval shipyards, with support from private shipyards. Maintenance availabilities for the conventional elements of the fleet (e.g., cruisers, destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and Military Sealift Command ships) are performed at private shipyards.
For each maintenance availability, the Navy identifies the technical and engineering requirements that are provided to the shipyard for execution. The maintenance timeframes established under the OFRP are adequate and based on technical and engineering requirements, according to Navy officials responsible for ship maintenance and engineering planning.
In addition to not factoring in acquisition and operational components, GAO found that the Navy’s maintenance report did not feature “all elements of results-oriented management” in accordance with the legislative mandate from Congress.
“The Navy’s July 2020 report described the Navy’s actions to address the causes of depot-level maintenance delays it had identified, but it did not incorporate all elements of results-oriented management that were required by the conference report, including analytically based goals; results-oriented metrics to measure progress; and required resources, risks, and stakeholders to achieve those goals,” GAO writes.
“Specifically, we found that the July 2020 report identified stakeholders needed to implement and oversee its plan of action,” it continues. “However, we found that the Navy did not include an achievable goal in the report, is still developing metrics to measure progress, and did not fully describe the resources needed and risks involved.”
The so-called INSURV inspections found that over five years, the surface fleet found big dips in the main propulsion systems — the plants that produce the power to push the ship through the water — as well as in the electrical systems and aviation systems. The Aegis systems, a collection of sensors and software that protects the ship primarily from air threats, has also shown some signs of slipping over the last half-decade.
The declining trend comes after years of intense focus on readiness inside the Defense Department, but the Navy says that recent changes to how the Navy conducts the notoriously intrusive INSURV inspections are making the fleet more ready. Still, the slipping scores do raise questions about whether the Navy’s much-in-demand surface combatants are getting adequate time in maintenance.
For INSURV, ships are graded across a wide variety of systems, with scores adding up to a “figure of merit” where perfect equals 1.0. Over more than 30 surface ship inspections in 2019, the Navy tracked a 20 percent drop in scores between 2014 and 2019 in the main propulsion plant and another 20 percent drop in scores for the ships’ electrical systems.
Aegis, which is the beating heart of the combat systems on cruisers and destroyers, saw a slight but concerning drop from a figure of merit of 0.88 in 2017 to 0.77 in 2019. Aviation systems, the systems concerned with launching and recovering rotary wing aircraft, dropped from 0.77 in 2014 to 0.68 in 2019.
By contrast, scores from submarine main propulsion — governed by strict Naval Reactors guidelines and inspections — scored figures of merit of 0.94, submarine electrical systems scored 0.90, and submarine combat systems scored a 0.84.
Overall, the Navy’s surface fleet got high marks in navigation systems and anti-submarine warfare systems.
The Navy accounts for its drop in scores by pointing to a recent change in how the service conducts the inspections. In 2019, the chief of naval operations ordered that INSURV be conducted once every three years, the length of one deployment readiness cycle where the ship is maintained, the crew is trained, and the ship deploys. The inspections were also changed from an event that is planned for well in advance, to an event that comes with little notice, and requests for delays to the inspection were prohibited.
The short-notice INSURV inspections are designed to get a more accurate picture of ships' readiness, instead of allowing sailors ample time to borrow parts from other ships and make temporary fixes that can boost the overall score on the inspection.
“Because ships knew exactly when the inspection would occur, they were able to put their best foot forward during the exam. "Over time, it became clear the consistently good INSURV scores ships were receiving did not accurately capture the material condition of the surface fleet.
“As a result, Navy leadership directed that future INSURV inspections be performed at any time during a ship’s deployment cycle, and with minimal notice.
At the same time, the Board of Inspection and Survey eliminated the possibility of ships receiving a delay to their inspection date due to a late occurring equipment casualty. The inspection is therefore more ‘come as you are’ than it has been in the past.”
SURFOR has also directed that ships conduct more rigorous and regular shake-out tests, such as directing the ships to max out their propulsion system in what’s known as a “full power run,” and has increased the frequency of inspections of the ship’s transmission, known as the main reduction gear, and monitoring of the health of the ships' SPY-1 radar system.
The surface fleet has made investments in increasing self-sufficiency of sailors so they can fix their own gear and made sure they have the right spares on board their ships to make sure they can fix broken gear. The goal is to make sure the fleet gets away from relying too heavily on technical experts employed by the companies who make the gear on ships.
“While we have the funding and availability of technical representatives we will continue to ensure that ships are able to maintain most if not all of their equipment should technical assistance not be immediately available,”
Part of the issue, of course, is that the Navy’s surface fleet is getting older. The cruisers are all closing in on their expected 35-year expected hull lives, and the first 27 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are not far behind them. Keeping the radars going in earliest ships has been a particular challenge, as has maintaining the aging engineering plants.
There remain questions, however, about how much the roughly 10-to-20 percent drop in scores across critical areas inspected by INSURV is attributable to the change in the inspection regime that SURFOR points to.
“Probably part of that 10-20 percent is a function of just not being able to prepare as much as you would in the past. The way you’d do it in the past is you’d see you had INSURV coming up and you’d have a bunch of preventive maintenance checks you’d perform to make sure the equipment they were going to test was in working order. You’d go run things that are almost never run and see, ‘Oh, I need to go fix that.’
“So, really the old system was to both test the ship as well as force the ship to make sure all of its systems were working at the right level of capability. Now it’s much more of a test where they come on board, test a bunch of stuff and they see if it works or not.”
But given that the downward trends go back so far, it’s also likely that the high demands placed on the force continue to degrade the material condition of the ships without adequate time for maintenance.
“Part of it has to be that the Navy continues to struggle to put the time and money into maintenance availabilities that they need to. “Particularly in the surface fleet, the ships' schedules have just not been able to be freed up they way they need to be, and in some cases they’ve had to manage costs and growth, which meant they couldn’t do all the maintenance they needed to.”
The move to schedule more INSURV inspections will likely yield good results over the long term, but the whole outlook on how the Navy deploys must change if any significant progress is to be made.
“Doing INSURV more frequently is a good time, especially since it is pretty much the most comprehensive inspection your ship is going to get. "You test things that you use infrequently so that you don’t need to find out they don’t work.
“But has the Navy really has taken a turn on readiness? They’ve put more money into it due to supplemental funding. They’ve done a much better job managing availabilities. But Navy-wide, you need to complement that with a supply-based model where you tell combatant commanders ‘We just can’t get you the forces you want because they need to go into maintenance and they have to be there for as long as they need to be there.’”
INSURV, which conducts acceptance trials for new ships, found that DDG-117 had the lowest overall score of any of the five previous destroyers built at the shipyard since the program restarted. And issues with the America-class amphibious assault ship in 2018 set the service’s acceptance of the new ship back a whole year.
Both contractors and Navy say all issues discovered on ships during acceptance trials are handled prior to delivery, and that the ships have performed well recently. But the issues in 2018 and 2019 raise concerns about a shipyard the Navy depends heavily on as it tries to expand its fleet.
According to the annual unclassified INSURV report sent to Congress, the America class LHA, Arleigh Burke class DDG, and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD) all showed issues in multiple areas in recent years.
On the destroyer inspectors found four of what’s known as “starred deficiencies,” which the Navy’s INSURV instruction defines as a deficiency that significantly degrades the ships ability to perform a primary or secondary mission, or impacts the safety of the ship. Starred deficiencies must be corrected before delivery.
Starred deficiencies included shortcoming in aviation systems, intelligence collection systems and command and control systems. Other issues were discovered in the ship’s air intakes, generators, high-pressure air system and steering systems.
On Tripoli, the INSURV report says that failures in the propulsion and anchoring systems, as well as production delays, pushed the acceptance trial back a whole year. On LPD-27, , the ship scored lower than any of the previous four ships over the past five years, with deficiencies in main engines, aviation, small boat handling, anchoring, generators and air search radar systems.
Contractors pointed to increasing standards for ship acceptance on the part of INSURV, and are committed to fixing any issues that arise prior to delivery and delivering quality ships to our Navy customer. An important part of this process involves INSURV providing the shipbuilder with a thorough inspection that sets and continues to raise the evaluation criteria to ensure the material readiness of the fleet.
“If there are system issues uncovered during the testing of ships, it is our responsibility to use our experience and shipbuilding expertise to create solutions that ensure that each ship performs its missions in a safe and reliable manner. We quickly respond to all deficiencies cited during ship inspections and those are corrected or resolved prior to delivery as we are dedicated to providing fully capable and operational ships to the Navy.”
Navy is saying the contractors worked hard to fix deficiencies in a timely manner and also said the issue on Tripoli was largely driven by a new electric anchoring system that took time to get right.
“The Navy’s ship delivery policy does not facilitate a process that provides complete and quality ships to the fleet and practices do not comport with policy a watchdog report said. "The policy emphasizes that ships should be defect-free and mission-capable, but lacks clarity regarding what defects should be corrected and by when.
“Without a clear policy, Navy program offices define their own standards of quality and completeness, which are not always consistent.”
For example, 25 of the 58 systems required to be certified for deployment on LPD-25 were incomplete at the time of the ship’s delivery, and 14 were still incomplete when the ship was transferred to the fleet. Multiple systems were found deficient while the ship was in the fleet, including an advanced electronics system that “controls nearly all systems and equipment on the ship.”
“The system has experienced widespread performance failures and the Navy has been unable to repair the ship efficiently, including during the post-delivery period and after the ship was provided to the fleet. “As a result, the Navy is in the process of looking at incorporating a new system.”
1. Different Maintenance Workloads May Exhibit Different Patterns as Fleets Age
2. Evolving System Requirements Trigger Episodic Modification Actions as Fleets Age
3. Fleet Modifications May Fluctuate Widely as Fleets Age
4. On-Equipment Workloads Vary Widely for Reasons Other Than Age
5. On-Equipment Workloads Vary Widely, but the Age Effect Is More Apparent
6. Prediction Uncertainties for Contractor Logistics Support
7. Asset Purchases Experience a Sharp Initial Peak, Followed by a Steady Growth as Fleets Age
8. Modernization Costs May Stabilize or Even Decline at Very High Ages
9. Workloads Stabilize After an Initial Unstable Period, Then Surge later in Service Life
10. Workloads Are Less Predictable in Both Early-Life and Late-Life Periods