WASHINGTON — The Navy’s inability to dig itself out of its ship maintenance issues means upkeep costs to the government have risen by $2.5 billion while ship steaming hours have decreased over the last decade, according to government auditors.
“Our analysis of key metrics shows the 10 ship classes we reviewed face persistent sustainment challenges that have worsened from fiscal year 2011 through 2021,” according to a Government Accountability Office report published today. GAO produced the report in response to “continued” congressional interest as well as specific provisions in the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act.
For the report, auditors examined the operating and support (O&S) costs from the past decade of various cruisers, carriers, destroyers, littoral combat ships and amphibious vessels. Between the 151 ships included in the report, auditors found the Pentagon spent approximately $17 billion in FY20 in O&S costs, a $2.5 billion increase from the same bills in FY11.
GAO also found that seven of the 10 ship classes experienced an increase in cost per steaming hour, with Nimitz-class carriers, America-class amphibious assault ships and Harpers Ferry-class dock landing ships being the exception. (A steaming hour refers to the time when a ship is operating its main propulsion plant either at sea or in port.) The report does not publish specific numbers related to ship steaming hours because the Pentagon “deemed this information sensitive,” according to GAO.
“GAO’s prior work shows that a number of other challenges have increased sustainment costs for ships, such as maintenance delays that have resulted in some ships deferring maintenance,” according to the new report. “Over time this situation has resulted in worsening ship conditions and increased costs to repair and sustain ships.”
Auditors also found that on nearly every ship class, both “cannibalizations” and “casualty reports” have steadily increased throughout the past decade. Cannibalization refers to when useful parts or components from one ship are salvaged and transferred to another vessel. Casualty reports are events in a ship’s life cycle that may prevent it from being operationally useful.
The ships that experienced the worst cannibalization rate increases were the Freedom-class LCS and the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. Meanwhile, the Wasp-class and both LCS variants had the largest increase in severe (category 3 and 4) casualty reports. San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers experienced the worst increases in maintenance delays, according to GAO’s data.
“Additionally, the Navy is not fully or accurately tracking other metrics—operational availability and materiel availability—that the Department of Defense and the Navy have determined are key to assessing ship effectiveness despite a prior GAO recommendation to do so,” according to the report.
GAO reports traditionally include a written response from the Pentagon either agreeing with or objecting to the watchdog’s recommendations. However, because the new report does not include any new recommendations, the document also lacks any specific comments on the report’s findings.
But the watchdog did include a summarized version of various explanations Navy officials provided in which the service blames ship cannibalization on “supply chain shortfalls for specific parts,” but acknowledged the overall increase.
“According to Navy officials, since the pandemic started, supply chain slowdowns have also become more common, resulting in increased procurement and manufacturing lead times to obtain needed parts,” the report said.
Regarding ship casualty reports, Navy officials told GAO that there is a level of subjectivity contained with each report and that, rightly or wrongly, ship personnel sometimes believe reporting a higher level of casualty will result in a quicker response with assistance.
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Author: Justin Katz
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