SAN DIEGO – The commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said Thursday while the Navy is only delivering 30 percent of its destroyers out of maintenance on time, he is pushing to improve that. He added that contracting strategies are part of the problem, and said delays in USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) maintenance will not repeat on other carriers.

“We’re only delivering 30 percent of our DDGs out of maintenance on time. We’ve got a backlog of submarine maintenance, and we’ve got to put a concerted effort on both the public side and the private sector side, working with industry if we expect to get better,” Vice Adm. Thomas Moore said here on Thursday during the AFCEA West 2019 conference.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) pulls out of its port in Norfolk on Aug. 5 to move to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va. for a Planned Incremental Availability (PIA). photo: U.S. Navy

Without getting to a better maintenance pace, Moore said even with the best ships and combat systems in the world “at the end of the day we’re really not going to deliver the force to the combatant commanders that they need.”

Moore said he does not think building in decreased maintenance needs on newer ships is the solution to improving overall destroyer maintenance.

“I think the goal is not necessarily to figure out, while we’d like to do less maintenance on them, I think the bigger issue is doing the right maintenance at the right time to keep them relevant, so as we move forward with DDG flight 3 I think it’s really understanding what have we learned from the DDGs so far and getting the maintenance done.”

Moore said while the Navy is still working through a backlog on ship maintenance, the main reason for maintenance delivery delays is there is not the capacity to do all of the work. He blamed this on contracting one ship at a time and in a fixed-price environment.

“I don’t think it’s the fixed-price environment so much as it is…when you award single ship contracts one at a time, then industry, because they’re not sure they’re going to get the work, is going to hedge and wait to hire until they see they get the work,” Moore said.

“And when they get the work, they hire, but they’re almost always behind. So we watch industry’s workforce follow the workload, it follows, it lags it, and so the net result is when ships come into availabilities, we don’t have the capacity there to do the work and therefore we end up falling behind and then you get in this vicious cycle,” he added.

The NAVSEA commander compared this situation to the commercial ship maintenance market where the work is much more predictable.

In the commercial market they build a backlog, lock down a work package 18 months in advance, then award a contract a year in advance. In contrast, the U.S. Navy tries to lock in a package nine to 12 months out, award a contract 90 days out, and then still making changes up until the work starts.

“So we have to develop an acquisition system that incentivizes industry to want to have the right people there.”

Moore said the Navy will start seeing the results of the acquisition changes pay off in the coming months as they increase the capacity at naval shipyards and give industry a longer and more predictable view of maintenance work.

“And I think you’ll see more of that in the next six months or so. You’ll see some real sea changes in how we’re going to contract for surface ship maintenance with the private sector that will incentivize them to build more capacity and then we’ll start seeing that [30 percent on time delivery] number improve dramatically.”

Moore compared the changing maintenance contract strategy to giving industry the resources like a multi-year build contract to hire more workers up-front.

Relatedly, Moore said “we’re seeing actually a significant improvement in the on-time delivery in the public shipyards because we’ve built that capacity.”

He underscored that while the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) finished its maintenance delivery over 10 months behind schedule at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard that was an anomaly brought on by other issues at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Eisenhower at Norfolk’s kind of an outlier, but if you go look at the last eight carriers, the other seven have all delivered on time,” Moore said.

In September, the Navy said CVN-69 would continue undergoing maintenance almost a year beyond its original six-month availability into early 2019 (Defense Daily, Sept. 24, 2018).

The Eisenhower first arrived in Norfolk in August 2017 in preparation for an expected six-month Planned Incremental Availability (PIA) maintenance and upgrade period (Defense Daily, Aug. 16, 2017).

Moore emphasized the point by noting the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) finished its availability 25 days early and the USS Nimitz (CVN-68) undocked early ahead of its delivery in May.

“I think Ike’s an outlier, we’re going to get to prove that out in spades here when the Bush comes in a for a 28-month availability,” Moore added.

While Moore said he would never declare complete victory, he said he is “cautiously optimistic about the path ahead at Norfolk Naval Shipyard” and “I think we’ve gotten our arms around the carrier maintenance piece.”