Surface Ships:

Status of the Navy's Phased Modernization Plan

GAO-15-510R: Published: May 20, 2015. Publicly Released: May 20, 2015.

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John H. Pendleton
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What GAO Found

GAO found that the Navy’s Phased Modernization Plan, introduced in March 2014, would have placed 11 cruisers and three dock-landing ships into a reduced operating status for maintenance and modernization. Under the plan, the cruisers were to be minimally manned while in phased modernization for between 5 and 12 years and then returned to the fleet. In February 2015, the Navy revised its original Phased Modernization Plan and put forth a new plan for its cruisers. The new plan stated that each year no more than two cruisers would be placed in phased modernization; no cruiser would remain in phased modernization for more than 4 years; and no more than six cruisers would be in phased modernization at the same time.

The Navy did not consider any formal alternatives to the original Phased Modernization Plan and revised the plan primarily to respond to congressional concerns that removing cruisers from the fleet would exacerbate existing capacity shortfalls. Navy officials stated that the primary motivation for phased modernization was to delay modernization costs, and that the plans have evolved over time. GAO’s analysis found that under a revised plan put forward by the Navy in February 2015, some of the benefits and risks the Navy identified for the original plan may increase while others may decrease. For example, the Navy expected the original plan to sustain the Air Defense Commander platform—which is the role played by cruisers in coordinating air defense for the 11 carrier strike groups—into the 2040s. GAO expects this benefit to be reduced under the revised plan because cruisers will be in phased modernization for a shorter period, thus the Navy will not be able to sustain the cruisers into the 2040s as under the original plan. Similarly, the Navy identified having fewer cruisers available for independent operations as a risk of implementing its original Phased Modernization Plan. Given that fewer cruisers will be in phased modernization at one time, GAO expects that this risk will decrease under the revised plan. 

Why GAO Did This Study 

In March 2014, as part of the President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2015, the Navy proposed a Phased Modernization Plan that included placing 11 Ticonderoga-class cruisers (large surface combatants) and three dock-landing ships (amphibious ships) into a phased modernization and maintenance period to reduce near-term funding requirements and as a means to extend the life of the ships.

House Report 113-446 accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 included a provision for GAO to review the costs, cost savings, benefits, and risks associated with the Navy’s Phased Modernization Plan.

This report (1) describes the implementation plans the Navy developed for phased modernization; and (2) assesses the extent to which the Navy identified and analyzed alternatives for achieving the goals of phased modernization.

GAO evaluated relevant Navy documentation, such as briefing slides and planning documents. GAO also interviewed Navy headquarters and fleet officials and obtained testimonial evidence regarding the process the Navy followed in developing its Phased Modernization Plan and alternatives considered.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations.

For more information, contact John Pendleton at (404) 679-1816 or

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