The U.S. Navy’s ships are costing more to repair and spending less time in operation. Those are the findings in a new report from the Government Accountability Office. It found that total costs for operating and servicing 10 classes of ships rose by $2.5 billion over a decade, and hours at sea declined. That’s even as the overall number of ships grew in that 10-year period.
The biggest problems have been increased maintenance delays, coupled with a rise of parts shortages, forcing crews to cannibalize parts for repairs. The report — a public version of one created in December 2022 — studied the 2011-2021 fiscal years, and found that the total cost for operating the 151 vessels it looked at reached $17 billion in the 2020 fiscal year.
“Over time this situation has resulted in worsening ship conditions and increased costs to repair and sustain ships,” the report said.
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Classes of ships with some of the largest increase in maintenance delays are the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (up by 33 days), the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (up by 20) and the Independence-class littoral combat ship (up by 19). The GAO warned that increased delays in maintenance can impact the Navy’s readiness.
The problems are mounting as the Navy tries to bolster its fleet, particularly while strategically shifting to the Pacific theater. In July 2022, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday released a new plan for the Navy’s future, calling for greatly expanding the fleet from roughly 300 combat ships to 543 by 2045. Those include 150 uncrewed vessels. The plan is greater than the proposal put forward in 2020, and it calls for expanding the Navy’s submarine numbers and the addition of a new aircraft carrier.
The GAO found several causes behind the overall delay. Those include depots not being fully staffed with people with the necessary skills, growing backlogs and a lack of planning for sustainment during the acquisition period with each vessel. The GAO report said that the Navy has agreed to many of the agency’s recommendations for dealing with delays and costs, but has not fully implemented many of them. Those include not doing a better job of tracking data on the times for maintenance periods.
The findings, which only looked at surface ships, come as the Navy is also dealing with maintenance delays for its submarine fleet. Those backlogs are growing due to waiting times for parts, which are ordered only when a submarine comes into dock.
The Navy has put forward plans to address the issues. Those include buying many parts in advance, as most repairs are routine and scheduled but parts currently are ordered only when a ship comes in for maintenance. It currently aims to have more than 90 percent of the parts on hand at repair depots by 2026.
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