A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last Thursday found a sample of Navy ships showed how ships delivered to the fleet are provided with incomplete work and quality problems.

The GAO reviewed a nongeneralizable sample of eight ships, six of which had entered the fleet and two that recently started the post-delivery period. The report, Navy Shipbuilding: Policy Changes Needed to Improve the Post-Delivery Process and Ship Quality, was produced for the Senate Armed Services Committee 

It conducted the review because the Senate report on the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 included questions about ship status after delivery. The office was asked to assess the post-delivery period, which is after a unit is delivered by the shipbuilders but before it enters the fleet. During this period ships undergo a series of tests, trials, and construction.

USS America (LHA-6)
USS America (LHA-6)

GAO was asked in its review to include quality and completeness of ships when they are delivered to the fleet. The report assesses the extent to which the Navy provides complete and quality ships to the fleet, has a ship delivery policy that supports those efforts, and reports ship quality and completeness to Congress.

The GAO chose a mix of ships either delivered within the last five years or planned to be delivered in 2016, built at a variety of shipyards, and were from different classes or variants. It found all eight ships sampled entered or likely will enter the fleet with unfinished work and quality problems. The reviewed ships are valued at $6.3 billion.

The GAO measured these ships using three quality assurance metrics identified by Navy program offices to evaluate the completeness of the six ships that entered the fleet at delivery and when each was provided to the fleet: San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock LPD-25, America-class amphibious assault ship LHA-6, Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer DDG-112, Littoral Combat Ships (LCS)-3 and 4 (Freedom and Independence-variants, respectively), and a Virginia-class submarine SSN-782.

The office also examined the Ford-class aircraft carrier CVN-78 and Zumwalt-class destroyer DDG-1000 which had not yet completed the post-delivery period.

The report said that while the Navy resolved many of the defects by the end of the post-delivery period, quality problems persisted and work was incomplete even when the ships were given to the operational fleet.

In the examined ships, the GAO found 363 “significant construction deficiencies” at time of delivery and 45 remained at the time the Navy provided the ship to the fleet. Similarly, 139 systems did not meet “minimal functional standard” at delivery and 54 did not meet this at the time the ship joined the fleet.  Additionally, 53 “significant deficiencies in mission-essential equipment” were present when the Navy delivered the ships to the fleet.

GAO found that fleet officials “reported varying levels of concern with the overall quality and completeness of the ships, such as with unreliable equipment or a need for more intense maintenance than expected.”

The future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). Photo: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell/Released.
The future USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). Photo: U.S. Navy by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Cathrine Mae O. Campbell/Released.

Separately, for CVN-78 and DDG-1000 the Navy plans to complete “significantly more” work and testing during the post-delivery period than the other six ships, GAO said. Therefore, the office said these ships are at a greater risk of being provided to the fleet with incomplete construction work and unknowns about quality.

GAO criticized the Navy for having a ship delivery policy that does not facilitate a process that provides complete and quality ships to the fleet and practices do not comport with policy.

The policy maintains ships should be defect-free and mission-capable, but it falls short on clearly regarding what defects should be corrected and by what time, GAO said.

“Without a clear policy, Navy program offices define their own standards of quality and completeness, which are not always consistent,” the report said.

The report also said the Navy’s Board of Inspection (INSURV) does not inspect ships at the end of the post-delivery period so it cannot verify each ship’s readiness for the fleet even though that is required by Navy policy.

The GAO added that the Navy has not assessed the costs and benefits of ensuring INSURV actually verifies the ships.

“Addressing these policy concerns would improve the likelihood of identifying and correcting deficiencies before fleet introduction and increase consistency in how the Navy defines quality,” GAO said.

The GAO also criticized how the Navy does not use consistent definitions for key milestones in Congressional reports like delivery or Initial Operational Capability (IOC). “Therefore, these milestones are not as informative as they could be regarding ship quality and completeness.”

GAO explained the Navy routinely declared a new ship class as IOC without having demonstrated the ships are able to perform mission operations, which is contrary to Defense Department guidance. The guidance generally states IOC should only be declared after successful operational testing that demonstrates performance.

The office made several recommendations: the Navy should revise its ship delivery policy to identify what kinds of defects should be corrected and by when; study how best to ensure INSURV verifies ships; and reflect in Congressional reports key milestones and consistent definitions in line with department policy.

GAO reported that the Defense Department did not concur with two of four recommendations, fully agreed with one, and partially concurred with another. DoD did not agree to study the current timing of ship trials or the costs and benefits of conducting additional INSURV assessment before providing ships to the fleet.

“GAO stands by its recommendations, which will help ensure that complete and quality ships are provided to the fleet and that Congress is provided with meaningful information on ship status,” the office said.