Home » Budget Industry » Navy May Reduce LCS-2 Drydocking Requirements as Drydock Shortage Looms

Navy May Reduce LCS-2 Drydocking Requirements as Drydock Shortage Looms

USS Montgomery (LCS-8) enters dry dock for Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) at BAE Systems Ship Repair facility. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Navy may not continue to put its Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships into the drydock every time they go into planned maintenance, as one way of dealing with a looming shortfall in drydock availability and private sector maintenance capacity.

Vice Adm. Tom Moore, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, told USNI News that the LCS-2 hulls have to be drydocked for all planned maintenance events, partly due to a requirement to inspect the condition of the hull each time. Most of the Navy’s ships are made of steel, so with the Independence-variants being made of aluminum, the Navy decided early on to gather data through hull inspections at each planned maintenance event.

“Part of the drydocking piece was to do an underwater hull inspection,” Moore said.
“So we’re looking at, hey, are there other ways we can go do that inspection? So I think that’s viable, and if we can do that that’s great because not having it docked every time would be good. So we’re coming through the technical piece, we haven’t finished it yet but my goal is to try to get us to a point where we could figure out how to do the inspections without having to put the ship in the drydock.”

Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, NAVSEA’s chief engineer and deputy commander for ship design, integration and naval engineering, told USNI News during the same conversation that NAVSEA would evaluate an Independence-variant ship this fall to see how much the condition of its hull had changed over time, and “pending those results we may be able to actually, we think, possibly double the interval on the drydock, which would give us a lot more flexibility.”

The admirals didn’t have the exact maintenance schedule but said they believed the drydocking requirement could go from once every three years to once every five to six years, if the engineering study this fall supported only using the drydock every other maintenance availability.

Moore, speaking at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Technology, Systems and Ships conference, said it’s clear the Navy will begin to need more drydocking availability than the private sector can offer, and that deficit in availability will become unmanageable in the next three to five years if companies don’t begin to make an investment now. Reducing the LCS requirement for drydocks wouldn’t be a total solution but would certainly go a long way in reducing demand on West Coast yards, since all the Independent-variant ships are stationed in San Diego.

Exacerbating the drydock shortage is the fact that most Navy surface combatants and amphibious ships undergoing maintenance in the private sector come out of the availability later than planned – since 2011, ships averaged about 60 days late, the admiral said. If those ships came out in a timely manner, new ships could come in and rotate through faster.

Additionally, the private sector has about 15,750 personnel in the workforce today and can already only meet about 75 percent of the Navy’s ship maintenance needs. By Fiscal Year 2020 the Navy will need the private sector workforce to be about 19,750, or 4,000 more than today.

“The private sector today, they don’t have the capacity to do the work we need,” Moore said in his speech.
“By our account, we’ve got about 15,750 workers in the private sector nation-wide; that’s about 75 percent basically of where we are from a workload perspective today, and it results in us delivering most of our surface ships late.”

Moore said many of the yards aren’t growing their workforce because the Navy’s operations and maintenance budget can be so unpredictable. Bringing in more employees would meet the Navy’s stated need but also represents a large, long-term cost for the company if the Navy doesn’t follow through and fund all of the maintenance availabilities it says it needs.

“They’re doing the math and saying, hey, if there’s no long-term predictability in the work, it’s probably better for me for my bottom line to perhaps deliver a little bit late but not over-hire. And so it’s incumbent upon us on the Navy side to send a very clear signal that there’s stable, predictable work coming and tell industry, hey, I need you to hire,” Moore said.

While the situation today is bad, it is only bound to get worse, Moore said. The Navy has 284 ships today and plans to grow to 355. Of those 71 additional ships, only nine are submarines and aircraft carriers that would be maintained at the public naval shipyards, Moore said; the rest would rely on the private sector for maintenance.

“We may not be challenged to get to 355 from a pure numbers standpoint; we’re going to be challenged in having 355 ships that we can go out and use and give to the combatant commanders to do the missions around the world we need to do,” he added.

Moore told the audience that “this is my number-one focus area now as COMNAVSEA. I probably spent more time on public shipyards in the first two years, but I think we’re on a better path there. … But the private sector is really where the biggest challenges are going to be in the next three to five years, in my opinion.”

On the public naval shipyard side, Moore said the Navy isn’t out of the woods yet but is seeing an “improving trend.” Hiring is on track to support reaching a higher workforce goal by 2019 or 2020, and a shipyard optimization plan has gone to Congress to outline a 20-year, $21-billion modernization and optimization effort. Included would be funding to replace aging drydocks with ones that can accommodate the longer Block V Virginia-class attack submarines and the higher power requirements of the Ford-class aircraft carriers; recapitalization of tooling and equipment, which the Navy only does every 20 to 25 years instead of every 10 years like private industry; and create a more efficient layout of shops, offices and other buildings at the four naval shipyards, some of which were originally designed to build new ships instead of repair nuclear-powered ones.

Moore said about two-thirds of the overall bill will go to layout redesigns.

“We found when we did some recent studies that at Norfolk Naval Shipyard we actually walk, the workforce walks the circumference of the Earth every single day getting back and forth between the shops and the ships,” Moore said.
“And so you can imagine that’s wasted time, and we think it’s wasted to the tune of at least 6 percent right off the bat – 6 percent of your labor hours are going to just transit.”

  • Curtis Conway

    I am encouraged. This admiral has the right focus . . . “…we’re going to be challenged in having 355 ships that we can go out and use and give to the combatant commanders to do the missions around the world we need to do”.
    Also the ‘…20-year, $21-billion modernization and optimization effort.’ is good too.

    Focus on and investment in future requirements, while meeting current support requirements, so the Geographic Combatant Commanders can perform their functions, is the name of the game.

    When one considers the combat capability vs the resources it consumes in its support, the LCS is the worse bargain the US Navy has occupying valuable and scare shipyard space.

    • Bubblehead

      Are we even sure if the LCS has any “combat capability”? After 10 years we have seen no combat capability at all unless being tied to a pier is considered some soft of pier escorts/protection capability.

      Interdicting drugs and mine warfare might be its upper limit. You might get a little greedy and throw ASW in there, but that is pushing its limits.

      • NEC338x

        Seriously, lets take this quote from NACE International’s report on galvanic corrosion in the LCS-2 platform.

        “Commissioned in January 2010 and made mostly of aluminum, the LCS 2’s early deterioration was due to a design flaw. Corrosion was concentrated in the ship’s propulsion system where steel impeller housings came in contact with the surrounding aluminum structure….A cathodic protection system, which would have prevented this, was never specified for the ship and therefore never installed.”

        I guess PEO LCS had never heard that dissimilar metals and seawater do not play nice together. Maybe magic pixie dust was supposed to act as an active galvanic protection system. Had NAVSEA not insistedon a policy to drydock more often, this may not have been caught quickly. What unknown-unknowns are we going to miss by this policy change?

        • Lazarus

          That was one platform; LCS 2, the first LCS two variant. The Navy fixed the problem and it has not been a further issue in follow on units. Galvanic and bimetallic corrosion has been an issue on many Navy ship classes. Again LCS gets a special focus just because it’s LCS.

          • Todd

            The LCS get’s “special” attention because it’s the only ship in US Navy history that is 17 years old and still can’t do ANY mission! 17 years after first commissioning, the Knox’s, OHP, Spruances, Burkes, etc., etc., were all front line assets and making major contributions, while the LCS continues to be a liability with no light at the end of the tunnel.

      • PolicyWonk

        According to Adm. Jonathan Greenert, former CNO, the “littoral combat ship” was “never intended to venture into the littorals to engage in combat”.

        Roll that declaration around in your head, made during an in-depth interview on Breaking Defense. I had to read it several times, because I couldn’t/didn’t (want to) believe it. Yet – there it was.

        As such, the “littoral combat ship” wasn’t designed with sufficient room for growth for the addition of either weapons or protection of significance. These tight limitations have created problems adding to the delays for development of the mission packages, because they would detract from the performance of both classes. Furthermore, as was published in Defense Industry Daily several months after the Greenert interview, the then-PEO LCS admitted that no version of LCS, present or future, would ever meet even the minimum US naval construction standard for survivability, as they are built primarily to commercial standards.

        Despite this, the costs for LCS are astronomically expensive given the value (or lack thereof) for taxpayer dollar spent; and, both classes require legal waivers to be commissioned into the USN, because it is a volation of federal law to commission a ship into the USN that isn’t built to at least the Level-1 standard.

        You can’t count on either class of LCS to be useful against a near-peer naval opponent of similar (or even half the) tonnage, because as every LCS sailor knows, they are massively outgunned by any potential opponent.

        Your observation of drug interdiction or mine warfare being the upper limit is accurate.

        • Lazarus

          LCS has 180 tons of weight for additional equipment and fuel. Class weight changes and new equipment are managed within that modular space. You should not keep repeating fake LCS news like this!

          • PolicyWonk

            Right: Fake news coming from the USN and PEO LCS (now UCS), when describing the problems they’ve been having with mission package development delays/problems.

            Got it!

          • Dean687

            Apparently any less than totally glowing and praising news about the LCS is ‘fake’ news to you. So how much is Lockheed paying you? Hopefully as much as they’re paying Duene.

        • Bubblehead

          One seen that report before and it is the biggest pile of kaka I have ever seen. Perfect example of the USN changing the requirements after three fact they realize the boat is useless. The original and main purpose of the LCS was to control and fight in the littoral. It was how the USN sold everybody on it in the first place.

          Think about it. The main and only purpose of the USN is to control the seas and fight and win. If the USN is putting boats out their that can’t fight and are death traps to the crew’s then the USN had lost its whole reason to exist. The Chinese have a littoral Corvette half the tonnage with 3X the effectiveness. In a war in SCS China will control the littoral with these corvettes and unsinkable aircraft carrier islands.

      • Lazarus

        LCS units based in CONUS are still underway and training regardless if deployed or not. No LCS is welded to a pier. This is just another LCS fallacy that gets repeated despite an utter lack of evidence.

        • WhiskyTangoFoxtrot

          They may not be welded, but up in Canada they are iced in year round, and here in CONUS they are triple tied up to the piers less they attempt to get underway and break, so what’s your point?

    • PolicyWonk

      I’m quite sure “bargain” isn’t even in the USN’s own lexicon when it comes to describing either class of LCS, given their use of the phrase “the program that broke naval acquisition…”, when describing it.

      That said, neither the Grand Admiral Of The Fleet, nor Lazurus seemed to get that memo.


      • Lazarus

        You have yet to offer any evidence of this statement that LCS “broke naval acquisition” other than this being your opinion. The Navy’s acquisition program has been broken since the 1986 Goldwater Nichols act provisions removed line officer direct program management. Read the RAND report by Irv Blickstein and Charles Nemfakos (two actual policy wonks,) entitled, “The Perfect Storm: The Goldwater Nichols Actand Navy Acquisition.) it is available online and free to download.

        • Retired

          Thanks for your $.00000000002 cents worth Fleet Admiral.

  • PolicyWonk

    The USN might want to consider rebuilding some of the Navy Yard system (somewhere under the level of needed capacity), to maintain its own ships, and use the civilian sector to handle the overflow. The Navy Yard system helped to keep prices down, and strongly encouraged civilian shipyards to remain highly competitive.

    Then there’s the problem with the LCS-2/Independence class, that seems to require considerably more frequent visits to the drydock than steel hulled ships. I thought the USN would’ve taken Austal’s lead on this, because they’ve been building these glorified car ferries, which were based the design on their existing models. In short – they should be well versed on the topic by now.

    If they were following Austal’s recommendations, then reducing the amount of time in the dry docks during required maintenance will negate any efforts to lengthen the lifespan of these already questionable sea-frames.

    • NavySubNuke

      We still have Navy yard system to maintain the ships – Portsmouth, Pearl, Bremerton, and Norfolk are there but are beyond capacity which is why the Navy had to shift some work to private yards such as the Boise overhaul after she sat tied to the pier for 2 years waiting for a slot in the Navy yard.
      The Navy yards don’t do anything to keep the price down though – they are always so chronically undermanned they have to keep paying extra overtime since the process of hiring and training yard workers comes with all the efficiency you have come to expect from a government run operation.

      • PolicyWonk

        Precisely why I advocate for a considerable increase in Navy Yard capacity.

        The system, as it exists today, simply cannot handle a reasonable fraction of the work.

        • NavySubNuke

          Just wanted to make sure you knew they existed and were already slightly below capacity as you advocated for.

      • Refguy

        Reopen Philly?

        • NavySubNuke

          I’m not going to say it is impossible but it is highly improbably. I think we would have an easier time expanding the current shipyards than trying to bring back Mare Island or Philly.
          Though at least there is a chance with Philly since they still do some limited ship construction there and the Navy still uses some of the facilities.

    • Rocco

      Agreed !! Philly being one!!

  • Duane

    This appears to be another instance of scheduling maintenance by the calendar or hour meter vs. “on condition”. It would seem that the hull performance of the Indy class has been monitored long enough to establish a baseline to enable assessment of hull condition with dockside methods. If after a few years this scheme is working, great … or if not , revert to the current inspection methods in drydock.

    There is a larger issue, here though, regarding manpower planning. With a growing fleet, obviously maintenance demands will grow. If it is a risk management issue, then surely Navy schedulers and contract managers ought to be able to work out an acceptable arrangement with the private yards to accept some government risk for paying occasionally temporarily idled workers at the benefit of faster throughput. This is the age old challenge of industrial planning.

    The project manager’s lament has always been “You can get it faster … or you can get it cheaper … or you can get it at higher quality … but you can’t have all three at the same time.”

    And as Meatloaf put it a couple decades ago, “two outta three ain’t bad.”

    • Lazarus

      Yes. Austal’s website includes a number of statements on maintenance that does not suggest such a heavy schedule of dry docks. Suggest readers see the Austal sale to Philippine ferry companies that stated that the catamaran hull design was robust and did not require extensive dry dock maintenance. This is likely a USN requirement given the novelty of the aluminum, trimaran Hull.

  • Hugh

    Do they still strap additional buoyancy tanks onto some submarines in order to get them into some of the draft-limited drydocks in Hawaii. As for new drydocking facilities, consider shiplifts and floating docks with transfer ashore to multiple berths.

    • Rocco

      Your last sentence made no sense to me!!! Be more specific!!

      • Hugh

        You vertically lift a vessel out of the water using a floating dock or a shiplift (eg “Synchrolift”), then move it to a dry-berth ashore either on rail tracks or by Self Propelled Mobile Transporters. This way the shiplift or floating dock is available for the next vessel, and the number of dry-berths is only limited by the adjacent land area available.

  • Lazarus

    The Navy radically changed the FFG 7 maintenance plan early in that class’ existence as well. These things happen.

  • Art

    Lack of dry dock space? The dry docks at Mare Island and Hunter’s point sit empty.

  • Master and Commander

    The Littoral Drydock Ship (formally known as the LCS, formally known as ‘the’ Frigate) finally has a mission it can actually accomplish-keeping drydock workers busy, it’s a great thing it only took 15 years and 20 billion dollars to get the “Drydock welfare module,” or DwM for short, working properly.