Home » Budget Industry » GAO: Navy Lost 1,891 Days of Attack Sub Operations Waiting for Repairs; Spent $1.5 Billion Supporting Idle Crews

GAO: Navy Lost 1,891 Days of Attack Sub Operations Waiting for Repairs; Spent $1.5 Billion Supporting Idle Crews

Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Helena (SSN-725) arrives at Norfolk Naval Shipyard for a high-priority docking continuous maintenance availability on Aug. 20, 2015. US Navy Photo

Delays in maintenance have resulted in at least 1,891 lost operational days for the U.S. attack submarine fleet and cost the Navy about $1.5 billion to support boats that can’t go to sea, according to a Monday report from the Government Accountability Office.

From 2008 to 2018, most of the planned repairs for the Navy’s fleet of about 50 nuclear attack submarines have started late and run long resulting in a combined 10,363 days of maintenance delays and idle time.

“Our analysis found that the primary driver affecting attack submarines are delays in completing depot maintenance,” read the report. “For example, of the 10,363 total days of lost time since fiscal year 2008, 8,472 (82 percent) were due to depot maintenance delays.”

GAO Image

While Naval Sea Systems Command has a $21 billion plan to improve the four public shipyards that are responsible for repairing the nuclear fleet, the report indicated the problem of delayed attack boat maintenance is not on track to improve any time soon.

“While the public shipyards have operated above capacity for the past several years, attack submarine maintenance delays are getting longer and idle time is increasing,” read the report.
“The Navy expects the maintenance backlogs at the public shipyards to continue. We estimate that, as a result of these backlogs, the Navy will incur approximately $266 million in operating and support costs in Fiscal year 2018 constant dollars for idle submarines from Fiscal year 2018 through Fiscal year 2023, as well as additional depot maintenance delays.”

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, called the report a “sobering assessment of the challenges facing our undersea forces” and called for the Navy to use private shipyards more to clear the backlog of attack boats awaiting repairs in a Monday statement.

“While demand for our undersea fleet and its unique capabilities continues to rise as reflected in the 2016 Force Structure Assessment, delays in maintaining our existing fleet are exacerbating the growing shortfall in our submarine force structure,” he said in the statement provided to USNI News. “This report makes clear that the Navy must do more to fully utilize the capacity of our private shipyards to reduce the backlog in submarine repair work – something I have repeatedly urged the Navy to act on.”

Monday’s report provides new details to a problem that has plagued the service for years. Attack submarines have suffered repair delays in the Navy’s four public yards that give priority to nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and ballistic missile submarines. The service has recently started mitigating the backlog by farming out some of the attack boat work to private shipyards.

“The Navy opted to send USS Montpelier (SSN-765) to General Dynamics Electric Boat and USS Helena (SSN-725), USS Columbus (SSN-762) and USS Boise (SSN-764) to Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding,” reported USNI News earlier this year.

While the service is doing more to send work to private yards, the GAO found that there was a lack of consistency in how the Navy exercised those private repair options.

“Although the Navy has shifted about 8 million man-hours in attack submarine maintenance to private shipyards over the past five years, it has done so sporadically, having decided to do so in some cases only after experiencing lengthy periods of idle time,” read the report. “According to private shipyard officials, the sporadic shifts in workload have resulted in repair workload gaps that have disrupted private shipyard workforce, performance, and capital investment—creating costs that are ultimately borne in part by the Navy.”

Shipyard workers at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard successfully undock the Los Angeles-class submarine USS San Juan (SSN 751) one day early from a routine engineered overhaul in August 2011. US Navy photo.

Earlier this year, head of Naval Sea Systems Command Vice Adm. Thomas Moore said the private yards were having difficulty repairing the attack boats.

“They’re struggling with the submarines that they have right now. Some of that is because overhauls are a heck of a lot harder than new construction so they’re not really proficient in it,” Vice Adm. Tom Moore said during a keynote speech at the American Society of Naval Engineers (ASNE) Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium in September.

“We would like to give them work on a semi-regular basis to at least create some efficiency for submarine maintenance… so that when we have peak years at naval shipyards we can choose to source that work out to the private sector.”

The Navy largely concurred with the recommendation of the report to conduct a more thorough review, “of submarine maintenance requirements and impacts across both the public and private shipyards.”

A Navy spokesperson acknowledged but did not immediately respond to a USNI News request for comment on the report.

Monday’s report is an unclassified version of an overall attack submarine readiness report that went into greater detail on the shortfalls of the force. At the request of the Navy, details of attack submarine readiness goals, wartime requirements and several other details were omitted from the unclassified portion of the report.

  • Ed L

    Idea take congress paychecks and the money they use to pay there staffs as a start and then get the money from all the politicians war chests

  • Duane

    The data in the table are striking – this problem is almost entirely focused on our oldest class of boats, the Los Angeles, the newest of which are 22 years old since commissioning, and quite a few of which were commissioned in the 1980s and are 30 some years old. Second most affected are the Sea Wolf class, which though only three boats they’re also getting a little long in the tooth.

    Is it really that we don’t have enough shipyard repair capacity?

    Or is it that we have too many submarines that are too old and too expensive and time consuming to maintain?

    These old boats may still be functional when they are operational, but they are clearly not functional when they are either tied up to a pier unable to do their jobs because of lack of maintenance, or they are in the yard with increasingly lengthy and expensive repairs and refits.

    The better use of the Navy’s limited funds to sustain the fleet may well be to decommission all the oldest 688s as fast as we can build replacements. Couple that with development of a new lower cost SSN design, updated to the 2020s, but much smaller and cheaper and quicker to produce than the bloated land attack Virginias. We need more submarines faster – this is the only way that can be achieved absent a huge increase in naval shipbuilding funds, which is already dead on arrival in the new Congress, and the new reality of rapidly accelerating annual deficits that are projected to return to trillion dollar plus per year levels.

    • RunningBear

      I see their numbers, now I would like the rest of the story!
      Fly Navy

    • NavySubNuke

      We’re actually decomming them FASTER than we can build replacements — that is why SSN force structure is declining and will continue to decline until the early 2020s. Check out the 30 year ship building plan.
      The issue really is a lack of maintenance capacity and an unwillingness by the Navy to do this work at the private shipyards. Now that the Navy is over that hump and the private yards are working alongside the government yards to get our boats fixed things are getting better. But still aren’t great.

      • Duane

        We do not have enough SSNs, period … and that problem will get worse not better.

        Forget the 30 year shipbuilding plan – it is based upon a 355 ship fleet which will never see the light of day.

        We have too few SSNs mainly because the Navy is only building bloated land attack SSNs that are upwards of 8,000 tons and $3.2B a hull, and are planning now for the even more wasteful SSNX design,an even more grossly bloated boat that will cost $5-6B … which I know you are cheerleading in your previous comments …. but it is a disastrous plan that will only result in an ever shrinking SSN fleet at a time when we need them more than since the Cold War.

        The only solution is to stop the disastrous shift to land attack SSNs (an extremely non-cost-effective means of land attack – aircraft with long range standoff missiles make far better land attack platforms than any ship, at far lower cost … particularly when it comes to the most expensive kind of ship to build, ton for ton – which is a submarine). The US Navy must go back to compact SSNs that are dedicated solely to anti-shipping and ISR missions – the true missions that only an SSN can perform as well, and which results in SSNs that need only be about 4,000-4,500 tons in displacement and cost less than $2B to build.

        It’s a raw numbers game. The available dollars are now fixed. The Navy can either waste them building bloated non-cost-effective SSNs, or not.

        The Navy and Congress are forcing us to keep these way too old SSNs operating in order to maintain a figment of a large enough SSN fleet, despite the reality that most of these old boats are inoperable … and do not have up to date sensors and weapons either.

        By the way, this needed re-missioning of our SSN fleet is similar in many key ways to what CNO is preaching about the misuse of our extremely valuable and expensive AEGIS missile defense ships for defending land facilities .. when land based MD systems cost but a small fraction of an AEGIS DDG, both in capital cost and in crewing cost (the largest operating cost of any manned ship). He wants DOD to use AEGIS Ashore to defend land facilities, so that our AEGIS DDGs can go back to the mission they were originally designed for, to protect our surface fleets from enemy missile attacks. The one difference is, an AEGIS DDG will be designed just the same for land defense as for fleet defense … whereas it is the land attack mission that dictates large numbers of VLS tubes, and humongous hull extensions and larger crew sizes for SSNs.

        • Hugh

          The French have designed and built nuke boats under 3,000T, and have been rather successful in wargames.

          • NavySubNuke

            The Rubis class were designed in the late 60s/early 70s and have served well but they are being replaced by the Barracuda class which is twice the displacement.
            They also need to refuel every 7 years (Rubis) to 10 years (Barracuda) where US boats are able to operate their entire life without refueling (Virginia and Columbia class). That actually helps us reduce force structure and saves money over the long run — refueling is very expensive.

        • NavySubNuke

          The Navy is choosing to buy ships that have the capability to do what the Nation needs the Navy’s submarines to do.
          The problems with SSN force structure have been known and identified since 1995 by CRS (Congressional Research Service). In that time Congress has never cared enough to do anything about the problem and they still continue to do nothing. This year they had the chance to add two additional SSNs and they chose instead to waste the money on two unneeded and unwanted LCS.
          I realize as one of the chief cheerleaders for LCS you would be happy to see us waste money hollowing out our SSN force by building boats that are too small and too noisy to provide a measurable benefit to the fleet or to accomplish what we need them to accomplish but the submarine force isn’t going to join the surface navy in that trap.
          UUVs – especially large diameter UUVs discussed here just a few days ago – are going to continue to advance in capability – we need submarines large enough to actually operate and service them. Weapons are not getting any smaller either – the Navy hypersonic missile development effort is larger than 21 inches around for example. Additionally, a big part of the reason today’s submarines have gotten bigger is because of modular construction (less efficient use of space) and sound silencing design features. That is why COLUMBIA has only 16 tubes but is just as long as OHIO.
          I’m curious what do you want to cut out of the baseline design of Virginia to suddenly make this mythical submarine you imagine? Cutting the VPTs and the lockout chamber only saves you about 8 feet of ship length.
          At the end of the day building a submarine that is as loud, as slow, and as under-armed as the -637s were is not going to help the United States better deter our adversaries or fight and defeat our adversaries should deterrence fail.

          • Rocco


        • Rocco

          You forget that the LCS program is to blame!!

    • gonavy81

      Back in the day, we used to conduct refueling overhauls about every five years.
      But we also had Mare Island, Long Beach, Charleston, and Philadelphia Naval Shipyards.

  • disqus_CbFK3MPhJu

    a friend of mine rebuilt his 69′ camaro RS.
    It will absolutely WASTE the original RS, and run for the next 40 years.
    Has AC now, satellite radio, and tires that could only be
    dreamed of back in the 60’s.

    killer paint job too, which is not so important on a sub, but I hear they make
    a mean hull coating now a days…..

  • vetww2

    I am so upset by this FIASCO, that I have erased all of a long analysis of my take on the whys and wherefores, for this travesty that I intended to post here, but I now consider too perjorative. I’m going to watch the silliest thing that i can find on TV.

  • Marauder 2048

    “we estimated that since fiscal year 2008 the Navy has spent more than
    $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2018 constant dollars on attack submarines
    sitting idle while waiting to enter the shipyards, and on those delayed in
    completing their maintenance at the shipyards.”

    “While the Navy would incur these costs regardless of whether the submarine was
    delayed, idled, or deployed…”

    Thanks, GAO. That really added a lot.

    • NavySubNuke

      I find their numbers to be very curious — especially the difference between a Block I VA and Block II VA —- certainly there were changes in the design but not enough changes to drive the average cost per day to be nearly 1/2 that of the Block I’s!

  • marc6850

    Maybe it is time for the Navy to reopen a maintenance base for submarines and surface ships. The money wasted is more than enough justification to reestablish such a facility. A civilian contractor could manage and staff the facility. This is a major failure of command and planning and is irresponsible.

    • gonavy81

      Where would the ‘years-of-skilled-training-and-experienced’ warship / submarine maintenance people come from?
      Hint: they don’t exist and take about 10 – 20 years to create. That’s what’s driving the problems now.

  • Hugh

    At Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, are the 3 (pairs of) tanks attached to the boat to give it additional buoyancy and clearance over the graving dock sill and cradle?

    • NavySubNuke

      If you had a need to know – someone would tell you 😉

      • Hugh

        Actually yes and yes – in my previous life during 50 years in the Australian DofD as a Civilian Naval Engineer (Hull and Mechanical) including subject matter expert for dry-dockings – when discussing various drydocking technical options a dockmaster in Western Australia who had been a previous dockmaster in Pearl had described using such tanks on boats there. 🙂

        • Rocco

          Those are not boyancy tanks!

          • Hugh

            Similar description but for a different purpose for which I don’t have the need to know…… 🙂 (I’ve never had anything to do with nuclear kit.)

          • Rocco

            What’s a nuclear kit??? I’m guessing you served on Diesel boats?

          • Hugh

            Kit = equipment.
            As for my career, I applied to join the RAN in 1961 but was too shortsighted to get in to Engineering, they offered me Supply, I declined, and after further studies I got a civilian position in naval engineering in the Naval Dockyard in Sydney. I worked for Defence for 50 years, (3 engineering degrees,) on every class of vessel, drydocks, etc. (Submarine familiarisation in 1971, then from 1990 regularly on maintenance of Oberons followed by Collins Class till retirement 3 years ago.)
            All things Nuclear in Australia were stopped by the government decades ago……
            I have visited USS Archerfish and USS Sculpin, along with many USN (and other navies) ships including USS Enterprise and an RN nuke boat.

          • Rocco

            Kudos to you Sir!

          • Hugh

            Thank you.

    • gonavy81

      Old graving docks and newer, larger hulls.

  • Rob C.

    Navy needs to press the Senators that they need invest money updating the existing shipyards we have. That’s pretty sad they decom capital ships just get around issue of repairing / upkeeping them. Private shipyards are hit and miss, Navy owned yards are more needed since we don’t need worry about them needing turn profit to keep them in business.

    • Donald Carey

      The flip side is that since they don’t need to turn a profit there’s little incentive for efficiency.

  • airider

    This has got to be the worst report yet published by the GAO.

    The assumption that maintenance delays automatically translate into lost operational time completely ignores the fact of what not doing this maintenance will do to operations.

    Use this report for fire starter … That’s all it’s worth.

    • gonavy81

      Sounds about the same as their study on surface ship maintenance.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    While it stands to reason that crews are technically ‘idled’ when their vessel (of any type ship/boat, or class) is engaged in an extensive maintenance period, doesn’t the Navy and the particular ships/boats involved schedule crew members for things like schools, qualifications and quals renewals, etc.? It would be interesting to compare ‘the numbers’ presented here in this article with those of eras like that of the actual Cold War, if such stats were kept then.

  • onehstrybuff

    We can handle them all at Norfolk Naval Shipyard but according to NBC, a huge tidal wave is heading our way….. wtf

  • gonavy81

    Too bad we BRACCed Charleston and Mare Island Naval Shipyards, eh?
    They did SSN maintenance…

  • Sharkey

    After serving in the 60’s I have anxiously monitored the increase in quality of the SS fleet while fretting over the increasingly smaller numbers we are building and deploying. I now live in WA where there appears to be both an enormous talent pool and abundant locales available to more cheaply rectify these issues. Please discuss this as I want to know more.