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Some Navy ships could have to return to US for maintenance, repairs under NDAA proposal

USS Higgins (US Navy)

Navy ships based overseas could have to undertake a new, costly journey back to the United States for maintenance and repairs under a new provision of the defense policy bill, according to an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

About 30 ships could be impacted by the provision of the House-passed version of the next National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 5515, at a cost of $80 million a year, or $400 million for five years, the federal agency found.

The provision “would require all vessels that are part of the U.S. naval fleet to be treated as though they are assigned to home ports in the United States or Guam for purposes of maintenance and repair,” the agency said. This is a change from the current requirement, as ships with overseas home ports “are usually exempt from the restrictions on maintenance and repair work in foreign shipyards.”

The Congressional Budget Office, which issues cost and budget analysis of proposed legislation on behalf of Congress, detailed the estimates as part of a larger look at the House version of the defense policy proposal, which could direct funding of about $709 billion.

The agency also estimated the new Navy ship provision could cost $40 million a year for fuel for ships to make the roundtrip from their overseas port to the western U.S. coast. Those ships could also see about $40 million in higher repair costs in the United States versus foreign ports.

As many as 30 ships could be impacted by the overall effort. Of those, about 13 would be required to make the trip to the United States each year, the report states. Each trip could take ships offline for more than two months, the agency said.

Guam, while closer than the West Coast, doesn’t have dry dock capacity for such repairs, according to the report.

“In addition, enacting this provision would reduce the operational status of the (impacted) ships,” the report states. “The Navy has indicated that the increased transit time for each ship would amount to 26 days each way and that there are not sufficient ships in their inventory to make up for the lost operational days.”

The report comes on the heels of a series of challenges facing the Navy ships in the past year. In 2018, several ships saw a series of mishaps, including two deadly crashes last summer that left 17 sailors dead.

The USS Fitzgerald, which lost seven sailors in June, and the USS John S. McCain, which lost 10 in August, were badly damaged in their crashes. The repair cost for both ships was estimated last year at about $600 million.

The Fitzgerald is being repaired at a Mississippi shipyard, while the McCain is undergoing repairs at a port in Japan. The repairs could last several months.

Navy ships under the Military Sealift Command as well as a handful of ships stationed in Bahrain, the Western Pacific, Japan, Italy and Spain would be impacted by the proposed House-passed version of the NDAA, which requires the U.S. repairs.

The House version of the NDAA was passed last month in a vote of 351 to 66. The plan authorizes policy and spending for the defense department, but separate legislation actually funds the measures.

The House Appropriations Committee is slated to consider its defense funding measure on Wednesday.

The Senate is also slated to begin another wave of debate on its version of the defense bill on Monday evening. The Senate Armed Services Committee passed its version of the defense bill last month.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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