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Navy ship operating hours down as maintenance woes mount

Written by Nick Blenkey
GAO eyes Navy maintenance woes

Image: GAO

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) paints a bleak picture of Navy ship availability with an increases in maintenance delays and things like use of cannibalized parts and a decrease in the number of hours a ship is available for operations or training.

GAO reviewed key sustainment metrics for 10 ship classes and found that from fiscal years 2011 through 2021, these classes faced persistent and worsening sustainment challenges. Specifically, the number of maintenance cannibalizations (working parts removed and reused elsewhere due to parts shortages), casualty reports (reports of events that impair ships’ ability to do a primary mission), and days of maintenance delay (days beyond the scheduled end date for depot maintenance) have each increased, while steaming hours (the number of hours a ship is generally in an operating or training status) have decreased. Additionally, says the watchdog agency, despite a prior GAO recommendation to do so, 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

Total O&S (operating and support) costs increased by about $2.5 billion from fiscal years 2011 and 2020 for the 10 ship classes GAO examined, including a $1.2 billion increase in maintenance costs. The Navy also added about 33 ships to these classes. Collectively, the number of steaming hours for the ships declined over the timeframe.

GAO found the average O&S cost per steaming hour—used to measure the cost to provide operational steaming hours—across the 10 ship classes increased from fiscal year 2011 to 2020. Specifically, most ship classes GAO reviewed experienced an increase in O&S cost per steaming hour across the timeframe.

The increase in O&S cost per steaming hour occurred for several reasons. First, a decrease in steaming hours contributed to the increase in cost per steaming hour. Second, 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. Over time this situation has resulted in worsening ship conditions and increased costs to repair and sustain ships.

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