Navy Ship Maintenance: Actions Needed to Address Maintenance Delays for Surface Ships Based Overseas

GAO-20-86 Published: Feb 26, 2020. Publicly Released: Feb 26, 2020.
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Fast Facts

U.S. Navy ships are based at homeports in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The United States relies on them to deter threats, strengthen partnerships, and provide strategic presence overseas.

The Navy has persistently underestimated the time and work required to maintain these ships and keep them ready to carry out their missions. For example, the overseas ships we analyzed were in maintenance a total of 3,475 days longer than planned in FY 2014 through 2018—thousands of days that ships were unavailable for operations.

We made 5 recommendations, including that the Navy comprehensively analyze and address maintenance delays.

The cruiser USS Shiloh on patrol in the East China Sea

A helicopter flies above a military ship at sea

A helicopter flies above a military ship at sea

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Navy maintains the 38 surface ships based in Japan, Spain, and Bahrain through a mix of Navy-operated facilities and private contractors. The Navy uses different maintenance approaches at each location depending on the number and type of ships based there and the Navy and private contractor industrial base available to provide maintenance support. For example, to support the 12 surface ships based in Yokosuka, Japan, the Navy uses both private contractors and its Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center, which is subsidized by the government of Japan. In Rota, Spain, the Navy relies on one Spanish contractor to maintain the four ships based at that location.

Maintenance on surface ships based overseas took longer than planned for 50 of the 71 maintenance periods—or about 70 percent—started during fiscal years 2014 through 2018. More than half of these maintenance delays lasted a month or longer, which reduced the ships' availability for training and operations. Various factors contribute to delays, such as discovery that unanticipated additional repairs are needed, missed planning milestones, or shortages of key staff. However, the Navy's efforts to understand delays often solely focus on individual maintenance periods and result in steps to improve specific issues related to maintenance timeliness. The Navy has not conducted a comprehensive analysis of maintenance delays to systematically identify and address their root causes. Without such an analysis, the Navy cannot effectively target corrective actions, and risks continuing to underestimate maintenance needs and the time and resources required to address them.

The Navy Completed the Majority of the 71 Maintenance Periods Started during Fiscal Years 2014 through 2018 Later than Planned

The Navy Completed the Majority of the 71 Maintenance Periods Started during Fiscal Years 2014 through 2018 Later than Planned

The Navy has developed a new maintenance approach for ships in Japan, but has not assessed the risks associated with this approach or analyzed the overseas maintenance requirements for a growing fleet. The new maintenance approach calls for ships to obtain all required maintenance in the United States before and after going overseas, among other things. The Navy decided to implement this approach in Japan based on use of the approach in Spain—where ships have experienced few maintenance delays. However, the Navy has not assessed the risks posed by differences between the operating environments in Spain and Japan, or by shortfalls in maintenance capacity at U.S. facilities. The Navy also plans to replace aging ships in Bahrain as it grows the fleet to 355 ships, but it did not analyze or include overseas maintenance requirements in its long-range plan. Without assessing the risks challenges may pose to the success of its new maintenance approach in Japan or analyzing the requirements of a growing fleet, the Navy could be hindered in its ability to ensure these ships are ready and available for operations.

Why GAO Did This Study

To meet operational demands, the Navy has doubled the number of ships based overseas since 2006. Navy ships based abroad represent about 14 percent of the total fleet and are there to provide presence, deter threats, quickly respond to crises, and build partnerships. Effective and timely maintenance is essential to meet strategic objectives, fulfill operational requirements, and ensure ships reach their expected service lives.

House Report 115-676 included a provision that GAO assess maintenance for ships based overseas. This report: (1) describes existing maintenance capacity and approaches the Navy uses for surface ships based overseas, (2) assesses the extent to which the Navy completed maintenance periods as scheduled in fiscal years 2014 through 2018 and analyzes factors contributing to any delays, and (3) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has assessed any challenges facing future overseas maintenance efforts. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed Navy policies and maintenance data from fiscal years 2012 through 2018, and interviewed officials, including from Naval Sea Systems Command and overseas fleets and maintenance centers.

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Recommendations

GAO is making five recommendations, including that the Navy comprehensively analyze and address maintenance delays, and assess the risks and analyze requirements of future overseas maintenance efforts. The Navy concurred with GAO's recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Navy should assign responsibility to an entity to conduct a single, comprehensive systematic analysis of overseas surface ship maintenance delays. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation and, in August 2020, the Department of the Navy provided an action plan to respond to our recommendations, including identifying an entity within Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) to lead the analysis of overseas surface ship maintenance delays. In March 2022, the department provided an updated estimate for the completion of this analysis by April 2022. When we receive the completed analysis and resulting plan to address maintenance delays we will update the information for all three related recommendations.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Navy should ensure the designated entity conducts a comprehensive, systematic analysis to identify the underlying, interrelated causes of overseas surface ship maintenance delays. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation and, in August 2020, the Department of the Navy provided an action plan to respond to our recommendations, including information pertaining to its planned analysis of overseas surface ship maintenance delays. In March 2021 and March 2022, the department provided additional information regarding the analysis and updated estimates for the completion of this analysis by April 2022. When we receive the completed analysis and resulting plan to address maintenance delays we will update the information for all three related recommendations.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Navy should use the results of the analysis to develop a plan to address surface ship maintenance delays overseas. Such a plan should incorporate results-oriented elements, including analytically based goals, identification of risks to achieving those goals, identification of required resources and stakeholders, metrics to measure progress, and regular reporting on progress. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation and, in August 2020, the Department of the Navy provided an action plan to respond to our recommendations, including information pertaining to its analysis of and plan to address overseas surface ship maintenance delays. In March 2021 and March 2022, the department provided additional information regarding the analysis and updated estimates for the completion of its plan by April 2022. When we receive the forthcoming plan to address maintenance delays we will update this information, along with the two preceding recommendations.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that Naval Sea Systems Command assesses and mitigates risks posed by any challenges, such as persistent delays and capacity limitations, to successful implementation of its new maintenance approach in Japan. (Recommendation 4)
Open
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation and, in August 2020, the Department of the Navy provided an action plan to respond to our recommendations in Fiscal Year 2021. Steps the Navy planned to take included for Naval Sea Systems Command to assess and mitigate any risks to successful implementation of its maintenance approach in Japan. In March 2022, the department updated its expected completion date for these efforts to September 30, 2022, so that the Navy may more fully incorporate analysis conducted as a result of our other recommendations into Technical Foundation Papers and other planning documents as warranted. When we confirm the actions Navy has taken we will update this information.
Office of the Secretary The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that Naval Sea Systems Command conducts analysis to include overseas maintenance requirements as part of its long-term maintenance plan to support the planned growth and readiness of the fleet. (Recommendation 5)
Closed - Implemented
The Department of Defense concurred with this recommendation and, in August 2020, the Department of the Navy provided an action plan to respond to our recommendations during Fiscal Year 2021. In June 2021, the Navy provided to Congress its Long-Range Plan for Maintenance and Modernization of Naval Vessels for Fiscal Year 2022, and in March 2022 provided us additional information. As a result of our recommendation, the Navy included analysis and consideration of its inventory of ships homeported overseas, as well as the corresponding infrastructure, capacity, and other capabilities needed to maintain ships now and in the future. The report also, at least for FY 2022, explains that these requirements are based on projections that, while the Navy fleet is growing, the inventory of ships homeported overseas is expected to remain stable for the next 30 years. While the types and sizes of overseas ships may vary in future, including overseas infrastructure and maintenance capabilities in its long-range planning will help ensure these requirements are considered should future fleet size or homeport plans change. We have closed this recommendation as implemented as of April 2022.

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