SAN DIEGO – Just 30 percent of the Navy’s destroyers come out of maintenance availabilities on time, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command said, and the service will be taking actions in the coming months to incentivize industry to increase their capacity and improve that on-time figure.
Meanwhile, the Navy feels it has its arms wrapped around aircraft carrier maintenance and has a plan to boost on-time completion rates at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the busiest of the Navy’s four public yards for nuclear-powered carriers and submarines, Vice Adm. Tom Moore said Thursday at the WEST 2019 event cohosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA.
Speaking about ship maintenance as it relates to the fleet’s readiness and lethality, Moore told the audience that “we’ve really got to get better than what we’re doing today. We only deliver 30 percent of our DDGs out of maintenance on time. … We’ve got to make a concerted effort on both the public side and the private sector side working with industry if we expect to get better. If we don’t solve that piece, we can build the best ships and combat systems in the world, but if we don’t solve that piece at the end of the day we’re really not going to deliver the force to the combatant commanders that they need.”
Moore told USNI News after his panel presentation that the delays on the cruisers, destroyers, amphibious ships and others that rely on private shipyards for repair and modernization work are partly caused by a backlog of work at those yards but are “primarily driven by the way we are acquiring repair work – we are doing it one ship at a time and in a fixed-price environment.”
“I don’t think it’s the fixed-price environment as much as it is … when you award single-ship contracts one at a time, then industry – because they’re not sure they’re going to get the work – is going to hedge and wait to hire until they see they get the work. And when they get the work, they hire, but they’re almost always behind. So we watch industry’s workforce follow the workload, it follows, it lags, and so the net result is when ships come into availabilities we don’t have the capacity there to do the work and therefore we end up falling behind and we get into this vicious cycle,” Moore continued.
Commercial shipping companies tend to lock down maintenance packages 18 months ahead of the start of an availability, award a contract a year out, and allow the maintenance yards predictability and stability in planning their workloads. The Navy, on the other hand, might define its maintenance package nine to 12 months out but continue to make changes up until the start of the work, and may not even award a contract until 90 days before the ship wants to arrive at the repair yard. Moore said the Navy wants to deliver all its surface ships on time and that “I think you’ll see more of that in the next six months or so, you’ll see some real sea changes in how we’re going to contract for surface ship maintenance with the private sector that will incentivize them to build more capacity. And then we’ll start seeing that (30-percent on-time delivery) number improve dramatically.”
On nuclear ship maintenance, Moore told USNI News that “we are seeing actually a significant improvement in on-time delivery in the public shipyards as we’ve built that capacity” and increased the number of trained workers at the four yards.
A noticeable failure for on-schedule delivery has been USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), which was supposed to have completed its availability in February 2018 but instead remained at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard until mid-November and then returned to the nearby naval station with more work remaining to be done.
“Eisenhower in Norfolk is kind of an outlier,” Moore said, and “of the last eight carriers, the other seven have all delivered on time.”
The admiral noted that USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) completed a recent availability 25 days early and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) undocked early and will deliver in May. The Navy has two challenging availabilities coming up, with USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) at Norfolk.
“I think Ike’s an outlier, we’re going to get to prove that out in spades here when Bush comes in for a 28-month availability,” Moore said of Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s ability to conduct carrier maintenance on time. He added he would “never completely declare victory” but said he feels the sea service has gotten its arms around carrier maintenance and has the right workforce in place now to do that work on time and on budget.
Still, Norfolk Naval Shipyard has seen its fair share of struggles due to the immense workload placed on that yard in particular. Delays in the yard and then a decision to not even induct attack submarine USS Boise (SSN-764) into the yard caused a cascading effect on readiness within the attack submarine fleet. But Moore said NAVSEA has learned from that and is proactively taking two upcoming SSN maintenance availabilities and sending them to sub builders Newport News Shipbuilding and/or General Dynamics Electric Boat.
The decision to keep these two SSN maintenance availabilities out of Norfolk comes “in recognition of the fact that, hey, with the George H.W. Bush and the Moored Training Ships and now the (ballistic missile submarine USS) Wyoming’s (SSBN-742) refueling, they’ve got more than enough work. So I think I’m cautiously optimistic about the path ahead at Norfolk Naval Shipyard,” Moore said.
“I do think Ike’s been an anomaly, but at the end of the day it’ll only be an anomaly if we prove we can now deliver the things that are in there now on time.”