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
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.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. 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. We closed the recommendation as implemented in 2015. In 2017, the Navy suffered four significant mishaps at sea resulting in serious damage to its ships and the loss of 17 sailors. Three of the four ships involved were homeported in Japan. The resulting Navy investigations revealed that due to heavy operational demands, the Navy had not fully implemented the revised operational schedules it developed in 2015 for ships based in Japan. In light of this information, GAO re-opened this recommendation. As of February 2020, the Navy had developed a change to the operational schedule for ships homeported in Japan, but has not yet codified this change in Navy guidance. The Navy also established Commander, Naval Surface Group, Western Pacific (CNSGWP) to oversee surface ship maintenance, training, and certification for ships based in Japan. Due to continuing heavy operational demands, GAO will continue to monitor the Navy's adherence to the revised schedules before it closes this recommendation as implemented.
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
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. In February 2019, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Assessments Division completed an assessment of the long-term costs and risks to the Navy's fleet associated with its increasing reliance on overseas homeporting. The assessment resulted in several changes to the Navy's process for making homeporting decisions focused on fully evaluating and considering long-term costs, material condition, and training risks when making homeporting decisions.
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