YOKOSUKA, Japan (Jan. 12, 2008) – The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG 67) receives an overhaul during a dry dock selective restricted availability. USS Shiloh is forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan and is part of Destroyer Squadron 15. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Reckard

A Navy Aegis cruiser in drydock for a maintenance “availability.”

CAPITOL HILL: Just when the Navy’s surface fleet had started pulling itself out of a 10-year, $2 billion hole, budget dysfunction may kick it right back in.

We’ve written a great deal about the damage done to all four armed services by the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. But what is happening to the Navy’s surface fleet – cruisers, destroyers, frigates, amphibious warships, and a host of lesser vessels – is subtler and more insidious than aircraft carriers stuck in port, cancelled Army training exercises, or grounded Air Force fighters. In fact, the surface force is suffering through a slow-motion crisis of deferred maintenance that began a decade before the 2011 Budget Control Act was even thought of, and the full extent of the damage won’t be obvious for a decade more. By that point, of course, it’ll be far more expensive to fix.

The bill for deferred maintenance since 9/11 already adds up to almost $2 billion, two Navy admirals told members of the House Armed Services Committee this past Thursday. (As a comparison, $2 billion just about buys you a fully outfitted DDG-51 destroyer, depending on the exact model and options). That’s how much the service has budgeted to catch up, or “reset,” over fiscal years 2013-2018.

The Navy has already made real progress: It has overhauled how it does overhauls, imposed new discipline on inspections, and invested $360 million in reset work in fiscal 2013. It even wrestled all its major maintenance “availabilities” back into the budget despite sequester, with the last eight (three destroyers, three amphibious ships, a minesweeper, and a patrol craft) restored by a congressionally approved “reprogramming” of funds just in July, although the work is significantly delayed.

But if sequestration continues in fiscal ’14, as all political indications are it will, “all of this good work is at risk,” testified Rear Adm. Timothy Matthews, the Navy’s director of fleet readiness.

Of the 60-odd surface ship availabilities planned for 2014, “we’re looking at up to 30 being deferred, delayed, or cancelled,” added Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, the director of surface warfare.

Under sequester, the Navy will focus training and maintenance resources on ships scheduled for “the highest-priority deployments” and economize on the rest. Obviously broken systems will get fixed, but subtler problems and long-term preventive maintenance will suffer, Matthews said.

Ultimately, said Rowden, if you keep deferring maintenance, at some point the problems become uneconomical to fix and ships become too expensive to keep. That means that vessels have to retire ahead of the service lives assumed in the Navy’s long-term plan – typically 30 years for a mid-sized warship – and the size of the fleet goes down. On that course, warned Rowden, from the current 286-ship fleet, “by 2020, we’re looking at about 257 ships.”

That’s especially painful for legislators to hear because Congress in general and HASC Seapower in particular have fixated on the size of the Navy fleet. There’s been much deserved skepticism over the optimistic numbers in the Navy’s 30-year-shipbuilding plan, which Seapower chairman Randy Forbes has repeatedly dismissed as “fantasy,” and there is much nostalgia for the famous “600-ship fleet” of Reagan buildup. (The actual peak was 594 ships in 1987, although how the Navy counts its “battle force” can change in contentious ways). Arguably, the self-inflicted injuries of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program result from a race to get large numbers of small ships in the water to bulk up the fleet.

In its own quest to keep up numbers, Congress has also outright prohibited the Navy from retiring nine aging ships (a mix of cruisers and amphibious warfare vessels) that the Navy said are too expensive to maintain. “Congress gave us money to keep them going in ’13 and ’14, but in ’15, we’ll need [more] money to deal with that,” Adm. Matthews told reporters after the hearing. Is money for those ships in the Navy’s long-term maintenance plan right now? “It is not.”

Matthews did not say so outright, but it’s clear that the Navy sees Congress as having compounded its problems here rather than helping. Forbidding retirements keeps numbers up in the near term but makes the long-term maintenance backlog worse.

So how did the Navy dig itself into this hole in the first place? Part of the answer is the Pentagon’s relative neglect of the Navy since 9/11 as the nation poured money and manpower into two grueling ground wars. The fleet shrank, but its commitments didn’t, leading to longer deployments – approximately 15 percent more days per year – and less time for maintenance.

Part of the answer, though, is the Navy’s relative neglect of its own surface forces. By far the biggest and most prestigious ships in the fleet are the 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which as versatile floating airbases retained relevance to the ground wars by providing air support as far inland as Afghanistan. Second to the carriers are the 72 nuclear-powered submarines (attack, ballistic-missile, and guided-missile models), which quietly hold the line against expanding Chinese naval power in the Pacific.

The bulk of the 286-ship fleet, however, is conventionally powered surface vessels, from imposing Aegis destroyers to modest minesweepers and unglamorous auxiliaries like oil tankers. (The auxiliaries are mostly crewed by civilians, not Navy sailors, and supervised by Military Sealift Command). The non-nuclear warships suffered from the worst of the maintenance shortfalls, with insufficient resources compounded by less rigorous planning and less systematic oversight than that conducted for carriers and submarines.

In 2009, 19 percent of ships that came up for inspection were failing and, after years of denial, Navy leaders publicly acknowledged the problem. In 2010 they radically reorganized the oversight and conduct of surface ship maintenance, bringing in the kind of rigor long associated with carriers and subs. In 2012 and early 2013, they instituted more frequent and shorter-notice inspections. The Navy has now put about 30 ships through major “reset” overhauls in drydock but needs to reset about 60 more. It’s that progress – among many other things – that is put in peril by sequestration.

Comments

  • M&S

    Not hearing a lot of options here. Such has what the cost differential is between big and small hull maintenance. And how many regions can be covered by mixed SAGs, ESGs and Single Hull CVGs vs. which ones have to have multihull or they aren’t safe.

    I would like to know what we can do to sustain crews by shortening deployments and going with blue:gold standard (ala SSN) -in theater- so that a single hull gets maximum utilization as ongoing maintenance attention while another is put into short-term ‘ready storage’ back in CONUS (once a month critical corrosion control and all main compartnments entrances taped shut and partially evacuated) on an annual rotating basis of evened out fatigue states.

    All so that you don’t run hulls -or crews- into the ground while awaiting PDM/SLEP as slip access but rather can practice ‘threat level’ standups based on the ships on the speartip getting as much maintenance as they need until they need -too much- and then switching out hulls to do a lighter workup on another same-class vessel.

    Nor am I hearing what can be done to energize our smaller hulls with potent missile mixes as door holders until Big Navy can get there.

    We have Tomahawks on ships and subs but do we have real time targeting for same without USAF or USN air and satellite assets in the area?

    All indications are: No.

    If we put some money into a true VTOL stealth drone with 500 knots on the clock and a genuine ability to operate from smaller helo decks or at least LPDs acting for carriers at some standoff anchored ‘flotilla commodore’s discretion’ point, could we in fact handle certain ocean basins with rotating DDG/FFG flotillas while allowing the CVGs to ‘ride the line’ in swing mission regions where they could handle either an IO/PG tasking or PACRIM at minimum sortie interval?

    Are there any places out there not too gruesome that would be interested in supporting a new Subic Bay/Clark Field condition in-range to the relevant areas? I’m thinking Java/Sumatra/Borneo here.

    It took something like 30 days to put a carrier off AfG in 2001 (9/11-10/10) but what is the real -time- difference between having a ‘seven carrier surge’ capability out of CONUS and simply buying in to more regional bases or expanding existing one’s security setup to handle big decks? Do we need to reopen Midway? What about Diego?

    Between Tactical Tomahawks that run 780,000 dollars vs. the 1.3 million dollars for the older Blk.III models and quad racks of small diameter bombs on 1,100nm + 3hr loiter UCAVs as well as the potential reach and hold HALE options of the 72hr RQ-4 Triton, there has to be some new toolset approaches for what goes into the theater ready mission force kit bag or -someone- hasn’t been doing their jobs.

    Finally, let’s look at the DF-21D/DH-10 scenario as an opportunity.

    Can we do a reset back to Pearl or even San Diego with some of our Pacific forces and leverage -cruise lengths- (much shorter but more frequent for the escort groups especially) as a function of stacking up surface assets in a particular task group around much shorter, alternating, cycles of “We’re with CVW-8, no, make that 7, now 8 again…” rotation?

    Do this continually with 11 months on and maybe 4 off with one unit for a couple years and then ‘detask’ them for two years and replace with an alternate group.

    I’m talking ‘full duty’ for major assets like show-flag CVNs as a function of constant readiness to deploy between much shorter training vs. operational cruises.

    While much longer off-cruise rotations for escorts effectively allows the standing crew to be demobilized for as much as 24 months as another mirror crew in a facing detron takes over their position.

    Since CVGs rarely operate alone -except- in friendly waters, it stands to reason that, in a national emergency, you could scramble to decks under one taskgroup.

    While during peacetime, as big decks came in and left for training exercises well away from forward deployed regions ‘which were simply too high a threat for a single deck and too far-as-costly for two’, they could trade off escort packages allowing for as much as half the navy to be in permanent down time.

    Which means that sailors could have real family lives and even a predictable secondary civilian work schedule with waivers for temporary employment (perhaps tax free exemptions in trade for no work return guarantee as they went ‘on shift’ with alternating two year commitment intervals?).

    So long as full time-in accreditation applies to things like retirement, I don’t see how anyone would complain here.

    We would certainly lose base competency in seamanship among the off-duty crews, but we could switch to simulation under a weekend warrior equivalent harbor training program for core-competencies maintenance. Wherein all the heavy electronics taskings as: AAW, TMD and ASW were virtualized over networks between bases or ships in-port.

    Since you don’t want to be radiating in GTW modes while firing off munitions if you are a thousand miles from the nearest live fire range anyway.

    If you read into the coming crunch of currency collapse what this man does-

    Peter Schiff On Printing Money We Don’t Have
    http://moneymorning.com/ob-article/schiff-us-will-win-currency-war.php?code=118408

    As much 2/3rds of this nation could lose everything they have in the way of immediate wealth as real property and accumulated savings.

    If things get that bad, we will need to completely reconsider what percentage remainder of the taxable population base we can draw from while sustaining remaining internal services as law enforcement and food creation/delivery.
    All this while we consider what starting up a new currency actually means in terms of drastic ‘reconfigurations’ of the defense forces.

    This emergency fiscal retirement process for hulls and crews will be a LOT less painful if our fleet is already operating at half manning levels with ships long-term docked. You will simply pink slip people and tell them not to come back to work for their next on-shift duty commitment, in 6-24months they at least know they are out of the defense dole loop in time to begin searching for alternatives.

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    Didn’t we learn anything in WW2? Yamato, biggest battleship in the World vs. aircraft?

    • ted

      Yes we did and thank God we have better protection than it had. Where do you think the aircraft came from?

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        Yes I know they came from carriers but if you think we can fight a war with China or Russia with carriers today I think you would be wrong. We can play in the sand with them.

  • Truthiness

    I am glad I can always count on Breaking Defense to be a shill for the Department of the Navy and her contractors. Which shipbuilder is sponsoring this website?

  • Chernenko

    The navy could save billions if we started using Diesel electric, or AIP submarines. The Germans, French, Japanese and Swiss make some very nice and quiet boats. Maybe the could work out a deal and build them under license in the states to appease congress. We spend to much to maintain and recycle the nuclear boats. We forward deploy the new diesel boats to Guam and Yokosuka, or possible Singapore.
    The Navy is currently operating two useless class of ships, the LCS and the Oliver Hazard Perry FFG. The LCS can be fixed after we through plenty of money at it, but even then it’s under gunned, not enough VLS. It’s going to end up filling some obscure niche role. It won’t be able to do anything well, perhaps in the future it will excel at ASW, anti-narcotics operations, and anti piracy operations.Our current FFGs are at the end of their operational life cycles. Rather than retire our cruisers early we should accelerate the frigates retirement. All of are remaining cruisers are equipped with VLS, and they could all potentialy be used for ballistic missile defense. The navy always says “there to expensive to maintain” this is why we got rid of the Virginia class cruisers in the 90’s, and we retired the Spurance class destroyers early. Perhaps we should stop retiring ships early and use them for the entire life cycle if they still have usefull applications.

    • PolicyWonk

      Well, there are a number of reasons why SSN’s make sense for the USA – one of them being distance. Most of the nations that operate AIP or diesel/electric boats are using them for local defense purposes. The USA, OTOH, uses nuclear boats because of the long distances they have to travel to get anywhere useful, and stay there for an extended period of time. For the USA – nuclear boats are overall a vastly superior options.
      That said, I do believe that we should have a few squadrons of AIP boats to bolster the SSNs.
      W/r/t operating useless classes of ships – the OHP’s have been fairly successful and have served the nation for a long time (they are obviously long in the tooth at this point). The LCS is a different matter, and are merely built to the navy’s lowest survivability standard (level 1), while even fleet oilers are built to the level-2 standard – as were the OHP frigates.
      Note that the LCS has zero VLS, and as currently configured (and/or publically envisioned) lacks armament and protection for the crew. The sea-frame is built to a higher standard than a commercial vessel – but simply isn’t built to take a punch.
      A number of ally nations were initially interested in the LCS concept – but all of them have since walked away after they saw what the LCS became. Hence – to say that the LCS is controversial is an understatement. IMO, from what it was supposed to be to what it turned into is both tremendous overkill and under-kill. Other nations have managed to design and construct full-military sea-frame stealth frigates, far more heavily armed and protected, even with mission packages for a lot less money.
      Hence – the entire program should be put under receivership in return for continued funding – and audited as well. The taxpayer is seemingly getting a truly lousy deal.

      • Chernenko

        I have no idea why I was thinking the freedom class had 14 VLS tubes. I have been following the lcs for awhile, and I don’t know when that particular thought crept into my mind. A figure that is often brought up is its level of survivabilty, even if it was higher it still wouldn’t make a difference. The Uss Cole, Stark and Samuel B Roberts were all rated higher. They were all virtually lost. Those ships were crippled so bad that they required extensive repairs. If they were in a shooting war and sustained that type of damage they wouldn’t be useful. The would not have been able to stay in theater and provide support. However they would eventualy return to service were as an LCS would have been at the bottom with most of the crew. The LCS is a great peace time concept, that should have remained a concept. As for the Perry’s I think I sounded a little harsh. They have served this nation and several other nations well, but when we removed there Sm-1 and harpoons we gave them a lobotomy. There still more useful than an LCS but even that won’t last long. I understand the reasoning behind are use of ssn, but with forward deployed boats that could remove some of the logistical strain. We are creating a lot on nuclear waste, and a bottle neck. We have only one facility were we recycle our nuclear fleet. The only positive aspect is most of our nuclear surface fleet has been eliminated, and almost all of the older ssbn’srecycled paving the way for the Los Angles class boats retiring. He’ll the Long Beach was just finished a year ago. You can see the bottle neck on google earth, granted its dated a couple of years. This is a disaster waiting to happen, either through natural causes or terrorist activity.

    • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

      I agree with the getting the AIP SSK submarines. They would perfect to bolster the SSN fleet and can be used to protect Conus, Alaska, Hawaii and Guam. SSK subs can act as gate guards and even be used for Special operations in the littoral region. On top of that, they cost less than an SSN, and we can build them in Numbers and sell the excess to countries that want SSK submarines.

      As for the LCS, I would can them and stop funding the program. I take all the remaining LCS money and divert it to buying a REAL Multi Role Frigate to replace the Aging Perry class FFG. As for the remaining LCS, I would relegate them to replace the Cyclone class PC and Avenger class MCM. I would make sure they never see front line combat but secondary roles such as Anti Piracy, Counter Narcotics and Anti Mine.

      As for the Cruisers, I would start building a New Cruiser based on the Burke Hull and build a Burke cruiser. The Remaining Ticos would be used for Ballistic missile defense. As for the sprucance/KIdd class DDG’s, I would, see if we can revive them to build them to a Frigate standard.

  • ted

    I say lets give the navy what it wants and/or need’s. Biggest bang for the buck. Use some of that foreign aid money we been sending overseas for year’s. Take care of business at home for change. These ships being built at home provide JOBS people.
    Not just security to our nation.And God knows we need every job we can get right now in America. Close inspection by the right people on contracts. Not politicians or lobbyist groups.Stiff penalty for over charging and/or fraud.

  • Bill

    We don’t need any new navy ships period. The defense budget and the military should not be a “jobs program”. The ships have now are in good shape and will do the job. Buying any new subs, aircraft carriers, and other surface combat ships is just a waste of tax dollars. Every $ wasted on pork defense spending could be better spent on infrastructure, research, ducation, etc. or just given back to us in reduced taxes. The military industrial complex must reigned in. It’s bankrupting us.