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Attack-sub maintenance logjam cost Navy $1.5 billion, GAO report finds

The Los Angeles-class submarine attack USS Key West (SSN 722) arrives at Naval Base Point Loma for a scheduled maintenance availability. She is the third Navy ship to be named for Key West, Fla. and is a member of Submarine Squadron 15 (CSS-15) in Apra Harbor, Guam. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Derek Harkins/U.S. Navy)

The Navy burned through more than $1.5 billion in the past decade supporting attack submarines sitting idle awaiting maintenance at overwhelmed and understaffed shipyards, a federal audit found.

Since 2008, attack submarines have incurred 10,363 days — more than 28 years — of cumulative idle time and maintenance delays due to lags in getting into and out of shipyards, the Government Accountability Office said in a public report released Monday that was issued in a fuller, classified form last month.

The Navy has been unable to begin or complete on time the majority of maintenance periods for its 51 attack submarines since 2008, which has resulted in significant maintenance delays and support-cost outlays, the GAO said.

Despite some steps taken by the Navy the past few years to mitigate shortages in maintenance facilities and workers, “attack submarine maintenance delays are getting longer and idle time is increasing,” the GAO said.

The report recommended the Navy conduct an analysis of workload allocation across public and private shipyards so that the latter could be better leveraged. Three other GOA recommendations were deemed too sensitive for public release, the report said.

The ranking member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee called the GAO study “a sobering assessment of the challenges facing our undersea forces.”

“While demand for our undersea fleet and its unique capabilities continues to rise as reflected in the 2016 Force Structure Assessment, delays in maintaining our existing fleet are exacerbating the growing shortfall in our submarine force structure,” Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said in a statement Monday. “This report makes clear that the Navy must do more to fully utilize the capacity of our private shipyards to reduce the backlog in submarine repair work — something I have repeatedly urged the Navy to act on.”

The attack-sub fleet includes 33 Los Angeles class, 3 Seawolf class and 15 Virginia class submarines. They are homeported at bases in New London, Conn.; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Norfolk, Va.; San Diego, Calif.; and Bangor, Wash. Four are homeported in Guam.

The most time-consuming maintenance work, such as overhauls, restorations and nuclear refueling, is done at one of the country’s four public naval shipyards. They are Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility.

Two private shipyards — General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding — construct nuclear-powered ships and sometimes provide depot-level maintenance for attack subs, the GAO said.

A Navy safety program requires submarines to adhere to strict maintenance schedules and pass assessments before being allowed to submerge.

“Attack submarines also face delays in beginning maintenance when the public shipyards have no available capacity, in some cases forcing submarines to idle pierside because they are no longer certified to conduct normal operations,” the GAO said.

Since 2008, 14 attack subs accounted for a combined 61 months idle as they awaited entry into shipyards for maintenance, the GAO said.

Even though the attack subs were sidelined, the Navy was still doling out funding for crewing, maintaining and supporting the vessels.

“While the Navy would incur these costs regardless of whether the submarine was delayed, idled, or deployed, our estimate of $1.5 billion represents costs incurred from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2018 for attack submarines without receiving any operational capability in return,” GAO said.

“While acknowledging the magnitude of these costs, Navy officials stated that there may be some benefits that could be realized from these operating and support costs since crews on idle attack submarines can conduct some limited training,” the GAO said.


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