GAO's Observations on Maintenance Aspects of the Navy's Fleet Response Plan
GAO-04-724R: Published: Jun 18, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2004.
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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and Operation Iraqi Freedom have prompted major changes in the employment of naval forces around the globe. These two events resulted in an ultimate surging to deploy seven carrier strike groups and the largest amphibious task force assembled in decades. According to the Navy, at the time of the September 11 attacks and in preparation for Operation Iraqi Freedom, only a small number of ships at peak readiness were forward deployed. However, most of the Navy's ships were not available for use because they were in early stages of their training cycles. This prompted the Navy, in March 2003, to develop a concept to enhance its deployment readiness strategy. The Navy's Fleet Response Plan, implemented in May 2003, evolved from a concept to institutionalize an enhanced surge capability. Because of potential budget implications, Congress asked us to review the assumption that the Navy's implementation of its Fleet Response Plan would reduce the duration of aircraft carrier depot maintenance intervals between deployment periods from approximately 18 months to 9 months. Specifically, our objectives were to identify the likely impacts and risks for the Navy's logistics requirements that could result from shortened maintenance cycles between deployments; the Navy's plan for fulfilling major repair and maintenance requirements; upgrading and modernizing weapons, communications, and engineering systems; and performing nuclear refueling in the shortened maintenance cycle; and how the Navy's budget supports its plan to shorten maintenance cycles.
The Navy's Fleet Response Plan does not shorten preexisting time frames for performing aircraft carrier maintenance. Furthermore, it does not alter existing major repair and maintenance requirements; methods of upgrading and modernizing weapons, communications, and engineering systems; or methods of performing nuclear refueling. At this time, the potential impact of the plan on the Navy's budget is uncertain. The implementation of the Navy's Fleet Response Plan does not alter existing repair and maintenance requirements; methods for upgrading and modernizing weapons, communications, and engineering systems; or methods for performing nuclear refueling. These aspects of Navy ship maintenance requirements will continue to be conducted in accordance with Chief of Naval Operations guidance for naval ships. However, Chief of Naval Operations and Naval Sea Systems Command officials informed us that under the Fleet Response Plan, the Navy intends to provide needed depot maintenance--called continuous maintenance--more frequently during scheduled, shorter-duration pier dockings, instead of deferring this maintenance until the normal 6-month maintenance period arrives. Intensification of the preexisting continuous maintenance process constitutes the essential core of the Fleet Response Plan's maintenance component. Navy officials stated that additional carrier operational availability is being achieved through intensified continuous depot-level maintenance. There are no present indications that the implementation of the plan will affect the Navy's budget. Navy and Office of the Secretary Defense budget officials stated that the plan was relatively new and they were unaware of any specific budgetary implications at this time.