Navy Force Structure:

Sustainable Plan and Comprehensive Assessment Needed to Mitigate Long-Term Risks to Ships Assigned to Overseas Homeports

GAO-15-329: Published: May 29, 2015. Publicly Released: May 29, 2015.

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What GAO Found

Homeporting ships overseas considerably increases the forward presence— U.S. naval forces in overseas operating areas—that the Navy's existing fleet provides and has other near-term benefits such as rapid crisis response, but incurs higher operations and support costs when compared to U.S.-homeported ships. GAO found that casualty reports—incidents of degraded or out-of-service equipment—have doubled over the past 5 years and that the material condition of overseas-homeported ships has decreased slightly faster than that of U.S.-homeported ships (see figure below). In addition, the Navy has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on overseas infrastructure and base operating costs since 2009, while moving large numbers of sailors, dependents, and ship repair work overseas. GAO also found that the high pace of operations the Navy uses for overseas-homeported ships limits dedicated training and maintenance periods, which has resulted in difficulty keeping crews fully trained and ships maintained.

Selected Operational Time, Costs, and Material Readiness Comparisons between Ships Homeported Overseas and in the United States

Selected Operational Time, Costs, and Material Readiness Comparisons between Ships Homeported Overseas and in the United States

The Navy has not identified or mitigated the risks its increasing reliance on overseas homeporting poses to its force over the long term. GAO found that some ships homeported overseas have had consistently deferred maintenance that has resulted in long-term degraded material condition and increased maintenance costs, and could shorten a ship's service life. The Navy began implementing a revised operational schedule in 2014 for U.S.-based ships that lengthens time between deployments, citing the need for a sustainable schedule. However, the Navy has not determined how—or whether—it will apply a more sustainable schedule to all ships homeported overseas. Although the Navy's decision process for moving individual ships overseas identifies actions and resources needed, it does not assess risks that such moves pose to costs, readiness, or expected service lives of ships that the Navy can expect based on its historical experience operating ships from overseas homeports. Without a sustainable operational schedule and a comprehensive risk assessment on overseas homeporting, the Navy lacks information needed to make informed homeporting decisions and it will be difficult for the Navy to identify and mitigate the risks its homeporting decisions pose to its budget, readiness, and ship service lives over the long term.

Why GAO Did This Study

Forward presence supports the Navy's goals of ensuring sea control, projecting U.S. power, and providing maritime security. To meet these goals and combatant commanders' growing demand for forward presence, the Navy has doubled the number of ships assigned to overseas homeports since 2006, to a total of 40 by the end of 2015, and plans to increase this number further in the future.

House Report 113-446 included a provision that GAO analyze the Navy's decision-making process for determining when to homeport ships overseas and identify the relative costs and benefits of various approaches. This report addresses (1) the operational benefits, costs, and readiness effects associated with assigning ships to U.S. or overseas homeports and (2) the extent to which the Navy has identified and mitigated risks from homeporting ships overseas. GAO analyzed Navy policies and 5 to 10 years of historical cost, operational tempo, and readiness data and interviewed fleet officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the Navy develop and implement a sustainable operational schedule for all ships homeported overseas and conduct a comprehensive assessment of the risks associated with overseas homeporting. The Department of Defense concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (202) 512-3489 or pendletonj@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2015, the Navy reported that it had approved and implemented revised optimized fleet response plan schedules for all ships homeported overseas--six different operational schedules for various naval forces homeported in different overseas locations.

    Recommendation: To balance combatant commanders' demands for forward presence with the Navy's needs to sustain a ready force over the long term and identify and mitigate risks consistent with Federal Standards for Internal Control, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to, to fully implement its optimized fleet response plan, develop and implement a sustainable operational schedule for all ships homeported overseas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As of August 2017, the Navy had not completed their assessment.

    Recommendation: To balance combatant commanders' demands for forward presence with the Navy's needs to sustain a ready force over the long term and identify and mitigate risks consistent with Federal Standards for Internal Control, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to develop a comprehensive assessment of the long-term costs and risks to the Navy's surface and amphibious fleet associated with its increasing reliance on overseas homeporting to meet presence requirements, make any necessary adjustments to its overseas presence based on this assessment, and reassess these risks when making future overseas homeporting decisions and developing future strategic laydown plans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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