The commander of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) this week explained the difficulties the Navy is having in maintaining its cruisers and how that informs service plans for the future fleet.

The Navy has worked to modernize and extend the life of two sets of Ticonderoga-class cruisers, first 10 starting in the 2000s and a second batch of seven more starting in 2015.

“So right now there are five cruisers in the program, four of which are well into their big modernization availability,” NAVSEA commander Vice Adm. William Galinis said Wednesday during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference.

The modernization program splits the work into two smaller availabilities followed by a major modernization availability.

“So the first one was kind of the removal of equipment and start of structural repairs, the second small availability is really focused on structural repairs and then the third availability really goes into the modernization piece of that,” Galinis explained.

He said four cruisers are well into the final modernization piece.

“I’ll be honest with you, we’re having our challenges with the first three ships that went in. We’ve got two on the East Coast, one in San Diego, and then the fourth ship which is up in  Seattle right now frankly is doing fairly well. So a lot of lessons learned from the first to the second to the third and then the fourth ship.”

NAVSEA is getting ready to induct the fifth ship into that final major modernization portion later this year. 

Galinis underscored that the cruisers are 30 to 35 years old. “So they’re aging and what we’re seeing is that it’s a ship’s infrastructure, so principally the hull, mechanical systems [at issue].”

This means distributed systems, piping systems, and hull systems that cause the biggest problems in maintenance.

Galinis said fuel leaks are occurring due to the hull flexing over the course of its service life during operations.

“So they are hands down probably our toughest class of ship to maintain. Followed by the LSD-class [dock landing ships]. So those are probably, just from my experience, probably the two hardest ship classes to maintain.”

Galinis compared them to the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers that are on average 15 to 20 years old. “ I think we’re doing pretty well in terms of maintaining those ships.”

He said over the past 18 months the Navy has developed a detailed analysis of the maintenance for the ships and “I think that really set the foundation [for the force structure] and the [Chief of Naval Operations] as he led us through that, really laid out what the future fleet should look like.”

“Just in this environment, we need to look into the legacy platforms we have and how much we’re spending to maintain those and where the tradeoffs are we’re working through that,” Galinis added.

Earlier during the event, House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) reiterated congressional opposition to reducing the cruiser fleet too quickly for fear of losing their 122 Vertical Launching Systems (VLS) cells each without ready replacements (Defense Daily, May 12).

The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan released last December sketched out plans to retire about half of the cruiser fleet by FY 2025 (Defense Daily, Dec. 10, 2020).