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SECNAV Mabus Responds to Fleet Readiness Decline Found in GAO Study

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) undergoing a scheduled docking planned incremental availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard on Aug. 26, 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) undergoing a scheduled docking planned incremental availability at Norfolk Naval Shipyard on Aug. 26, 2014. US Navy Photo

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he’s confident the sea service is taking the right steps to get its ship maintenance back on track, after a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report noted declining material readiness of Navy ships and particularly those homeported overseas.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday, Mabus said that whereas the Army and Marine Corps can come home and “reset” after periods of war, the Navy maintains its deployment schedule in times of peace and therefore has to reset in stride.

He said former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead made progress improving the condition of the surface combatant fleet, and the Navy is currently implementing an Optimized Fleet Response Plan (O-FRP) – a 36-month cycle for maintenance, training, deployment and “surge” status – to help the entire carrier strike group and other surface ships.

“One of the issues we’ve got, because our deployments are getting longer and because they’re being extended, when they come back they don’t have enough time to reset, to do the deep maintenance that you need to do,” Mabus said.
“And it is a concern to us, but we think that with the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, along with some other things that we’re doing, that we’re going to be in a position to get the life span of the ships that you’d expect out of those ships when they enter the fleet.”

GAO noted in its May 29 report, however, that O-FRP may not be enough.

“The Navy began implementing a revised operational schedule in 2014 for U.S.-based ships that lengthens time between deployments, citing the need for a sustainable schedule. However, the Navy has not determined how – or whether – it will apply a more sustainable schedule to all ships homeported overseas,” the report notes.

For both ships homeported in the United States and abroad – in Japan, Bahrain and Spain – the number of casualty reports, which detail “degraded or out-of-service equipment,” has doubled over the past five years, with the material condition of overseas-homeported ships declining more dramatically than those homeported in the United States, according to GAO.

Though the Navy says homeporting one ship abroad creates the same overseas presence as four ships homeported in the U.S. – to to transit time and differences in the training and maintenance schedules – GAO says the extra presence comes at higher operational cost per ship, decreased crew training, lower material readiness and eventually shorter ship service lives.

“Overseas-homeported ships are maintained differently than those homeported in the United States, which has led to maintenance deferrals and higher maintenance costs,” according to the report.
“Maintenance officials told us that the focus for ships homeported overseas is on mission readiness, so overseas-homeported ships place priority on the maintenance of combat systems, for example, while systems with the potential to reduce ship service life – such as fuel and ballast tanks that require extended in-port periods to properly maintain – are subject to maintenance deferrals in order to allow the ship to sustain a high operational tempo. These officials added that if such systems are left unmaintained, corrosion of these tanks and other lower-priority ship components can fester to a critical point where more costly replacement or overhaul is ultimately required.”

In 2006, the Navy had 20 ships homeported overseas, or 7 percent of the fleet. By the end of the summer, the Navy will have 40 ships homeported overseas, or 14 percent of the fleet, according to the report – 21 in 7th Fleet, in Yokosuka and Sasebo, Japan; five in 6th Fleet, in Gaeta, Italy, and Rota, Spain; and 14 in 5th Fleet, in Manama, Bahrain.

To ensure this growing number of ships is cared for, GAO recommends that the Navy not only implement its O-FRP for U.S.-based ships but also “develop and implement a sustainable operational schedule for all ships homeported overseas,” as well as “develop a comprehensive assessment of the long-term costs and risks to the Navy’s surface and amphibious fleet associated with its increasing reliance on overseas homeporting to meet presence requirements, make any necessary adjustments to its overseas presence based on this assessment, and reassess these risks when making future overseas homeporting decisions and developing future strategic laydown plans.”

  • Kenneth

    Do not need survey. Not enough money and not enough ships. If I was a enemy of the US I would hit us hard. Government is weak and probably surrender easily. DO NOT NEED SURVEY> LOL

  • Marjus Plaku

    Well you can only do so much with that you have and then dealing with unexpected events like extended tours and stupid congress/president.

  • James Bowen

    Bottom line is we are over-committed. We need more ships and fewer commitments.

    Also, why was the Secretary of the Navy speaking at the American Enterprise Institute? The policies they advocate are part of the reason why the Navy is so over-committed and run down.

    • bohemond

      AEI is at fault, yeah, right.

      Under this administration annual Federal spending has increased by over 40%, $1.5 trillion per year- yet the Navy has been cut and cut again.

      • James Bowen

        AEI is part of the invade the world-invite the world crowd. This crowd seems to think it is our mission to impose democracy and capitalism on the rest of the world. At the same time, they support trade agreements which have sent our industrial base overseas. This has greatly reduced our military potential and might be the number one reason why we are having so much trouble maintaining a navy. When we rank maybe a distant third or fourth in steel production and well below that in shipbuilding, it should not be surprising that an adequate fleet is becoming unaffordable.

    • Curtis Conway

      The commitments are determined by treaty primarily. Each Combat Commander has a job to do somewhere on the planet. The AEI is an observer in this only. A bully pulpit at best. The mission and requirements to maintain Sea Lines Of Communications (SLOCs) is well understood and maintained since WWII as the world (and US economy) grew. That international trade, and free flow there of, is fundamental to US economic health and survival. It is this (and previous) administrations that have cut force levels trying to diminish their primary enumerated constitutional responsibility (defense) so they could take the money and use it for social engineering as inferred by the Preamble of the Constitution via new interpretation. Now the US and all our Allies suffer from the Re-activeness of current policy and readiness, instead of a Proactive presence, we can no longer afford, of which retiring functional cost effective frigates were a significant part, and the LCS cannot replace.

      • James Bowen

        Our treaty commitments are no longer realistic. They reflect our situation in 1950 when we were dominated the world’s industrial output and military potential. That is no longer the case. China produces five times as much steel as we do. The trade agreements we have entered into have resulted in the dismantling and outsourcing of our industrial base, which has undercut our ability to maintain a navy. Social programs, as you mention, are also a problem.

        • Curtis Conway

          So we just pick our toys and go home?! You already see the Chinese intention in the South China Sea with respect to their smaller neighbors. You can see how they honor their signature in UNCLOS. You would just disengage huh?

          • James Bowen

            I hate to say it, but in our current condition we would very likely lose a war with China in the South China Sea. When we stack up their industrial output vs. ours, there is no comparison. The numbers are similar to those between the Union and the Confederacy or the U.S. and Germany in World War II. They can build up and replace losses much faster than we can, and in the South China Sea we would be fighting near their home turf. If we have any qualitative advantage (of which I am very skeptical), that won’t last forever as losses mount and the enemy adapts in a protracted war.

            We need to think long and hard about our current geopolitical situation. We think of ourselves as far and away dominant power on the planet, but the reality is that that is no longer the case considering that military power depends on industrial strength. In that category we are behind China and Japan (and the combined EU), about on par with Russia, and India is on track to overtake us within ten years. We need to pursue policies that rebuild our industrial base and warmaking potential, but until then it is prudent to acknowledge our limits.

          • redgriffin

            No we don’t pick up our toys we change the toys that are played with the US has to change the commitments by asking reasonable questions. Like If the US cut down of some deployments into Europe could the Naval Forces of NATO take up the slack France and Italy have been building new ships for their fleets and Britain is bringing new Carriers into operational readiness. Can Singapore and Australia, New Zealand and Japan take over some jobs in the we now do in the Far East Once again these navies have been in a large modernization programs and Japan has begun to talk about long range deployments for the first time since WWII. Either we do that or we have to look at enlarging the Navy with both men and ships and building the ships and getting those assets manned mean we have to do this by using a draft or a press gang we have very few other options.

  • NavySubNuke

    If we spent more money buying real ships and less buying little crappy ships – and if we could get carriers that cost less than $14B per copy – these numbers would get a lot better.
    Maintenance funding and shipyard manning are also part of the problem – on board resources can only do so much.