The U.S. Navy must complete its warships’ maintenance and return to sea quicker and it should be offended by the delays and short staffing that contribute to those delays, according to the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.
Defense News reported last week that Adml. Daryl Caudle, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC), called out the slow maintenance timelines and manning issues the Navy has become accustomed to with its surface warfare fleet over the years.
“We need to be offended by not having the right manning,” Caudle said. “We need to be offended by not getting ships out at the right time. It needs to be palpable, and not just like, ‘Okay,’ and just kind of kick the can down the road.”
Caudle said he wants a bigger budget for more warships, but warned that the Navy can’t continue to grow its fleet with its existing pool of warship crew members.
“We can’t just go build a bunch of ships and not fill them with the right equipment, the right number of people,” he said.
Some U.S. warships have been so affected by manpower shortages in recent years that some sailors have had to put in 100-hour workweeks at times to keep their ships running. Such manpower shortages can have deadly consequences. The USS Fitzgerald and the USS John McCain were both involved in fatal collisions at sea, resulting in 17 deaths between the two collisions. The undermanning of those ships and the subsequent overworking of the crews are believed to have contributed to the fatal collisions.
Maintenance delays have also been a problem affecting the Navy for years. An August 2020 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found, at the Navy’s four shipyards, 38 of 51 (about 75 percent) aircraft carrier and submarine repairs faced delays, resulting in a total of 7,424 days of delayed maintenance between 2015 and 2019. Caudle said private shipyards will need to assist with more ship repairs.
The service has suffered from maintenance delays for years and has taken steps to address the delays. According to Defense News, Naval Surface Forces commander Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener recently announced the Navy had cut the average number of maintenance delay days at private shipyards by about 41 percent since 2019, but Caudle said there’s more work to be done.
“Our repair capacity has the pedal to the floor, we are at full throttle,” Caudle told reporters from the sidelines of the conference following his speech. “So any time we insert a new ship into that, that’s going to be an applecart-upsetting event, and it’s going to propagate that effect throughout other major availabilities.”
Caudle also said that with shipyards running at capacity, there’s no extra room to handle emergency ship repairs.
“If I went into conflict, high-end conflict where I had to repair numerous ships simultaneously, I don’t have enough capacity. I don’t have enough dry docks, and I don’t have enough shipyards to get after that,” Caudle said. “So it’s a wartime problem, and it’s a peacetime problem any time we have something that’s unplanned.”