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GAO: Costly maintenance delays plague Navy attack submarine fleet

Written by Nick Blenkey
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USS Boise idled at pierside

NOVEMBER 20, 2018 — Navy shipyards have been unable to keep up with maintenance demands for attack submarines. As a result, the Navy has spent $1.5 billion since 2008 to support submarines that it could not deploy. One example: the USS Boise has been docked for over two years while waiting for maintenance—with the Navy paying to support it.

Those are some of the findings in a report released yesterday by GAO, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (Navy Readiness: Actions needed to address costly maintenance delays facing the attack submarine fleet GAO-19-229).

GAO’s analysis of Navy maintenance data shows that between FY 2008 and 2018, attack submarines have incurred 10,363 days of idle time and maintenance delays as a result of delays in getting into and out of the shipyards. For example, the Navy originally scheduled the USS Boise to enter a shipyard for an extended maintenance period in 2013 but, due to heavy shipyard workload, the Navy delayed the start of the maintenance period. In June 2016, the USS Boise could no longer conduct normal operations and the boat has remained idle, pierside for over two years since then waiting to enter a shipyard.

GAO estimated that since fiscal year 2008 the Navy has spent more than $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2018 constant dollars to support attack submarines that provide no operational capability—those sitting idle while waiting to enter the shipyards, and those delayed in completing their maintenance at the shipyards.

GAO says the Navy has started to address challenges related to workforce shortages and facilities needs at the public shipyards. However, it has not effectively allocated maintenance periods among public shipyards and private shipyards that may also be available to help minimize attack submarine idle time. GAO’s analysis found that while the public shipyards have operated above capacity for the past several years, attack submarine maintenance delays are getting longer and idle time is increasing.

The Navy may have options to mitigate this idle time and maintenance delays by leveraging private shipyard capacity for repair work. But the Navy has not completed a comprehensive business case analysis as recommended by Department of Defense guidelines to inform maintenance workload allocation across public and private shipyards. Navy leadership has acknowledged that it needs to be more proactive in leveraging potential private shipyard repair capacity. Without addressing this challenge, the Navy risks continued expenditure of operating and support funding to crew, maintain, and support attack submarines that provide no operational capability because they are delayed in getting into and out of maintenance.

The report is a public version of a classified report issued in October 2018. Information the Department of Defense deemed classified or sensitive, such as attack submarine force structure requirements and detailed data on attack submarine maintenance delays, has been omitted.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Navy conduct a business case analysis to inform maintenance workload allocation across public and private shipyards. The Department of Defense concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

Download the report HERE


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