WASHINGTON – The US Navy has significantly improved its ability to maintain surface ships – but has not eliminated repair time overruns as wanted by the chief of naval operations.
High-profile reviews in 2010 and again in 2017 highlighted the decline in surface navy readiness, including a decline in ship materiel readiness. Maintenance periods would be long, some items would be skipped to get ships back into the fleet, ships would operate in this suboptimal state, and they would show up at their next maintenance availability with an even longer list of unscheduled work to try and get through. sneak into this availability.
In 2018, only 29% of ships went out of maintenance on time, former Surface Navy Vice-Admiral Rich Brown told the Surface Navy Association’s 2020 annual conference.
Since that time, the Navy has invested in several initiatives to review its maintenance practices, spares inventory, scheduled schedules for completing maintenance tasks, and more, all with the goal of getting ships out of the yards. repair on a shorter and more predictable timeframe.
In a Jan. 8 call with reporters ahead of this year’s SNA conference, the Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice-Admiral Roy Kitchener said that “since 2019 … we have reduced our days of delay. maintenance of about 41%. On-time completion at shipyard exit is steadily increasing from 34% in [fiscal 2019] at a 59% forecast for all 2021 availabilities ”, noting that this number remains an estimate as some started in fiscal year 21 but will be completed later this fiscal year.
While performance has improved, it still does not match what Executives expected to be a year or two ago when they got serious about improving surface vessel maintenance in shipyards. private naval vessels.
At the 2020 SNA conference, Kitchener’s predecessor Brown said he expected 71% of ships to come out of maintenance on time in 2020. And in one Fragmentary order from December 2019, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday wrote: “Our goal is to improve productivity, reduce days lost through deposit uptime extensions by 80% in FY20 from FY19 and eliminate days lost through deposit extensions from here the end of FY21. “
These targets predate the COVID-19 pandemic, and the virus and its effects on the workforce and supply chain have presented additional challenges. Yet Kitchener acknowledged during the media roundtable that the Navy continues to move closer to the NOC’s objectives.
“I am by no means telling you that I am satisfied with these figures. I think there is still a lot of work to be done to improve in this area. But I think we’re starting to really focus on the right things to measure and the right things to leverage as we continue to find ways to improve availabilities in our shipyards, ”Kitchener said.
He told Defense News on the call that the initial efforts of the Surface Navy were focused on planning.
“We wanted to make sure we were asking the industry to do something that was within their capabilities. So we tried to deliver the material on time, we made sure that we got the right package of work and that we got the right duration, ”he said. “When we got into run mode on all of these things, we found that, okay, pulling those levers gets us this far, and then we seem like we hit a wall.”
He said most recent efforts have focused on execution, looking at integrated production schedules and strengthening the relationship between the Navy and the industry teams involved in achieving this combined schedule. He said that a ship repair schedule is inherently fluid, as any hiccups that occur have ripple effects and can change when another item of work can be accomplished, so “it’s really important that these crews do this calendar every day “.
Kitchener said the team is also working to not only limit the work of growing – things that weren’t in the plan, but that arise when the ship is unbuttoned and new issues are discovered – but also for the find before hitting the 40% mark on the uptime schedule, which Kitchener says is critical to ensuring on-time delivery.
“The two things that interest me the most are these calendars, these built-in production calendars, making sure they’re ready before you start and that they stay updated constantly,” Kitchener said. “Then the second thing … is that we asked to examine [the industrial partners’] workforce data, the people they put on a project, and we get that data, we measure it, we understand it so that we all have full transparency about the gaps and their impact.
These efforts are primarily focused on surface fighters like cruisers and destroyers as well as amphibious ships, all of which have established class maintenance plans and decades of data that the Navy can use.
An emerging challenge, Kitchener said on the same call, is the littoral combat ship, which is newer to the fleet. Although the industry has some experience with ships, it has mostly been limited to post-shakedown (PSA) availability of ships or their first period of maintenance after being delivered to the fleet and undergoing sea trials. Some of the older LCSs have recently reached their first major repair period or availability as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
“We underestimated some of the times, the length of time, depending on some of the unique systems like waterjet repairs,” Kitchener said of these early NOCs availabilities for LCSs. “There is a learning curve there, as with all ships. So this is something we need to make sure we learn the right lessons and turn them around quickly and get [the lessons] in the next ships.
Megan Eckstein is the Naval Warfare reporter for Defense News. She has been covering military news since 2009, focusing on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, procurement programs, and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumnus.