Navy ships that cannot deploy regularly due to maintenance delays are “not worth much,” Virginia Representative Rob Wittman said on Wednesday. And if these ships are not at sea, they are sending the wrong message to American adversaries.
“We can have the largest ships in the world, from our nuclear aircraft carriers to our submarines to our destroyers,” said Wittman, the leading Republican on the Marine Forces and Projection Subcommittee of the House Armed Services, at a Heritage Foundation virtual event. “But if we can’t keep them on a regular cycle of deployment, then they’re not worth much.”
According to a Government Accountability Office report released in August, Navy shipyards “continue to face persistent and substantial maintenance delays that hamper the readiness of aircraft carriers and submarines” – even though The Navy dedicated $ 2.8 billion in capital investment from fiscal 2015 to fiscal 2019 to increase shipyard performance.
The report also determined that 75 percent of scheduled maintenance periods at the Navy’s four shipyards have been delayed for aircraft carriers and submarines scheduled for completion from FY2015 to FY15. 2019. In total, this adds up to a total of 7,424 days of maintenance delays, which Wittman says means less time for ships to deploy to sea.
“This creates problems for the United States, especially when it is extremely important that we have a presence in the world to deter our enemies,” Wittman said. “If our ships aren’t there, it sends a signal to our adversaries about where we are and how serious we are about the United States Navy. “
Wittman described several changes that must occur in Navy shipyards, including increasing their ability to update infrastructure with new workspace and new technology. This is essential to attract young people to these shipyards, he said. At the same time, he noted that it is important to keep senior managers with experience.
“If you have a less experienced workforce, you will have more issues in the way the work is done,” Wittman said.
Likewise, he stressed that the layout of shipyards must become more efficient so as not to waste time recovering tools or materials, and the condition of dry docks must improve in order to mitigate accidents.
The Navy has taken several steps to revamp its shipyards, and the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program established in 2018 is providing $ 21 billion in infrastructure upgrades at the four shipyards over a 20-year period. Program priorities include repairing dry docks, updating shipyard facilities and replacing and refurbishing old equipment, according to the Navy.
Wittman said the program was a step in the right direction, but noted that the Navy needed to act faster to achieve such goals. What is also concerning, he said, is that the program is tailored to the current fleet and does not sufficiently take into account future needs as the Navy adopts more unmanned vessels and new technology.
“My heartache about it is $ 21 billion over 20 years,” Wittman said. “Twenty years is too long to achieve it. I think the Navy needs to get a lot more aggressive about this and shorten that period of time. I don’t think we have 20 years to do these things.
The Defense Policy Bill the House passed in July includes a provision that would require the Navy to provide semi-annual information to Congressional Defense Committees on the shipyard infrastructure optimization plan and to provide to legislators for updates on military construction and facility sustainment plans by 2025.
The measure is not included in the Senate version of the bill.
In a conflict with China, shipbuilding and maintenance delays would seriously disadvantage the United States, Wittman said. China has increased its shipbuilding capacity and now has around 350 ships and submarines.
A 2020 Defense Ministry report to Congress states that China is “the world’s largest ship-producing country in terms of tonnage and increasing its shipbuilding capacity and capabilities for all classes of ships.” These growing shipbuilding and maintenance capabilities are cause for concern for Wittman.
“It’s worrying because if we have a protracted conflict there is going to be damage and wear and tear,” Wittman said.
“If our yards don’t have the capacity to put ships back to sea, or even to produce additional ships if it is a protracted conflict, and China does, it gives them overwhelming superiority in the conflict and that does not bode well for us, ”he said.
The Navy does not have as many shipyards as it did after WWII, in large part thanks to the Congress Base Realignment and Closure Act passed in 1988. The measure led to the closure of the shipyard from Philadelphia to Pennsylvania, the Mare Island Shipyard. and Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California, and Charleston Naval Shipyard in South Carolina, according to The Heritage Foundation.
The US Navy currently has around 293 ships. Defense News reported this month that the Pentagon is considering expanding the fleet to 530 ships, which would include more small surface fighters, unmanned ships and submarines, and an expanded logistics force.
This represents an increase of around 35% in the size of the fleet from the current target of 355 crewed vessels by 2030.