Ship Maintenance Improvements Mean Fewer ‘Lost Opportunity Days’
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — Navy maintenance facilities are improving their record on getting ships out of the repair yards to the operators and focusing on restoring the ability of ship crews to do repairs on board, which would be crucial for operations in a contested environment, a panel of officers said Jan. 11. But, they said, Congress’ recurring use of prolonged continuing resolutions to fund the government inhibits their ability to perform their critical mission.
“Maintenance is a warfighting capability.” Vice Adm. David Johnson, the Navy’s uniformed research, development and acquisition officer, told an audience at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.
Johnson noted that the recently released national security strategy said the nation needed a strong Navy. That meant it needed ships, but “we need maintenance so ships can go to sea,” he said.
In the drive to increase the fleet, Johnson said, the pace of fielding new ships is accelerating, with 18 expected to be delivered and 10 commissioned this year. But coping with those additional ships, he said, will be handicapped by the continuing resolution, which already has tied up the first quarter of the fiscal year.
Rear Adm. Mark Whitney, the Fleet Forces Command maintenance officer, and Rear Adm. James Downey, manager of the regional maintenance centers, both cited sharp reduction in what they called “lost opportunity days,” meaning the days ships are not at sea because of delayed maintenance. Downey claimed a 75 percent reduction in lost opportunity days, from 4,900 days in previous years to 1,755 in fiscal 2017.
But with an increase in planned availabilities, “there still is room for improvements,” he said.
Rear Adm. Mel Bouboulis, the Coast Guard’s chief engineer, said the service has made similar improvements in getting ships back into service by applying more industry practices to its repair yards.
Part of the Navy’s plan to grow the fleet to 355 ships is ensuring the existing ships make it to, or beyond, their expected service lives, which will require continued maintenance and modernization, Downey said. He asked for industry input on how the Navy could continue to reduce the time ships are in maintenance.
The two officers also emphasized on-going efforts to reverse past practices that reduced the ability of ships’ crews to handle routine repairs on board. In addition to ensuring the crews are adequately trained, it was crucial that the Navy makes sure spare parts and technical manuals are on board, they said.
“For too many years we have taken margins on spare parts on board” which meant that if something failed, the ship would have to call for support, Whitney said. “That won’t work in a contested environment. We have to have the repair pieces on board and the tech manuals.”
That situation is improving, but there is a lot of work to do, he said.
To continue to improve the maintenance performance, the panel said, the Navy yards and the private repair yards must improve their facilities to handle more ships and stay on time and on budget.