In a photo from August 10, 2019, the USS Connecticut exits Dry Dock 4 at the Puget Sound Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., During a 5-month maintenance and modernization period and a half, officially known as Mooring Continuous Maintenance Availability. (Max Maxfield / US Navy)
WASHINGTON – Over the past five years, Navy ships have spent an additional 33,700 unplanned days, or about 90 years, moored in shipyards for maintenance, according to a recent government report, raising concerns among senators on Wednesday about the ability of the service to carry out its missions around the world.
“One of the effects of these delays is the decrease in the number of vessels ready, which puts more pressure on our fleet to meet all of its operational demands,” said Senator David Perdue, R-Ga., Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces subcommittee on maritime power, said at a hearing on maintenance delays.
Delays at shipyards have been a known problem for years. A report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office found that the Navy faces “persistent and substantial maintenance delays” that are affecting most of its maintenance efforts and hampering its efforts to rebuild its readiness.
The report found that, from exercises 2014 to 2019, the Navy was unable to complete scheduled maintenance on time 75% of the time.
“When maintenance is not completed on time, fewer vessels are available for training or operations, which can hamper preparation,” the report said.
Perdue pointed to one of the fewer ship examples in the report, written by Diana Maurer, director of defense capabilities and management at GAO. Maurer also testified at the hearing.
“In fiscal 2019, maintenance delays alone cost the Navy the equivalent of 19 service vessels. Of our [290-ship] fleet, 19 were not available to commanders, ”Perdue said.
One of the reasons for the delays is the aging and outdated infrastructure of shipyards across the country. The Navy has a 20-year plan to optimize and modernize the shipyard’s infrastructure to meet future vessel maintenance needs and the service said it would cost around $ 21 billion. However, a report released Nov. 25 by GAO says the estimated cost is too low and will likely increase by billions of dollars to account for inflation, environmental cleanups, and service upgrades. public.
“It is still too early to say if the plan will work,” Maurer said Wednesday during his testimony. “The Navy has yet to develop the most important details of what needs to be done and figure out how to keep the shipyards running while rebuilding and improving them.”
As the Navy strives to meet its goal of increasing the fleet to 355 ships by 2034, senators at the hearing questioned whether the service would be able to maintain even more ships.
“In this era of great power competition, there is no doubt that our Navy needs to grow and become more capable,” said Perdue. “My fear is that as the Navy grows the maintenance capacity will not keep pace, the end result will be a larger fleet, but fewer ships ready for operational tasks.”
Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Asked how vessel maintenance issues will affect building a larger fleet. James Geurts, the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and procurement, said the Navy was trying to strike a balance.
“Building new ships that you can’t maintain isn’t hugely helpful or not having the size of the fleet you need to operate globally isn’t helpful. It’s a constant discussion within the Navy, ”he said.
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Subcommittee on Management Readiness and Support, asked how the Navy might implement the National Defense Strategy with the delays. The loss of ships in areas such as the South China Sea and the Arctic “has a huge negative impact.”
Geurts said “the Navy’s past performance is unacceptable and unsustainable.” While encouraged by the improvements the Navy has made over the past 18 months to address the issue, he said he was still not happy and they had “a long way to go.”