Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Maintenance Lessons

Navy Times website had an article about fleet maintenance that absolutely infuriated ComNavOps (1).  The article begins with a note about the Navy having to switch carrier deployments because one carrier is taking longer than expected to repair.  Here’s the relevant quotes.

"The problems that drove the carrier switch — extended maintenance after years of high deployment pace and smaller crews — also plague other carriers and ships. Two attack submarines are more than six months late in their yard work and two guided missile subs are more than a year late, officials said."

"The attack boats are ‘the lowest priority in the shipyard,’ said Vice Adm. William Hilarides, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command. ‘They are not doing well at all and are significantly late to their schedules.’ "

Hmm …  So, the submarines, arguably the most valuable warship in the Navy, have the lowest priority.  What’s wrong with this picture?

"The Navy often paints a rosy picture for overhaul schedules. But the fleet needs work, and the Navy’s top shipfixer says its time to ‘deal with the facts’ and set realistic goals for overhauls."

OK, that sounds like someone understands the problem but why is the rest of the Navy painting a rosy picture?

" ‘We started avails that were notionally six months long that we knew in our hearts were going to take nine or 10 months,’ Hilarides said in an Oct. 6 phone interview. He recalled telling fleet bosses that many 2014 overhauls were going to be late. They did not like the news ..."

"Navy officials estimate that 40 percent of preventative maintenance work is not getting done, or is not done right. Not following procedures is also a growing problem, especially in the surface Navy, and has caused more than $50 million in damages this year alone.”

So, the Navy knows what the problems are.  I wonder if they know why the problems occurred?

“Hilarides places much of the blame on the failed ‘optimal manning’ initiative, which the Navy moved to reverse by adding back ship billets in 2011 after years of cuts that hollowed crews. Personnel officials still estimate the fleet has 7,000 gapped jobs."

So, the Navy knows why the problems occurred.  I wonder if they’ve learned any lessons?

“‘If there is one thing I’ve learned, we shouldn’t take this apart again,’ Hilarides said. ‘We should rebuild it and keep it strong. This is part of the cost of running a world-class Navy.’ "

So, the Navy has learned their lessons.

Well, the entire multi-decade maintenance debacle has been painful and expensive but now we recognize the problems, the reasons, and we’ve learned our lessons.  OK, the history of the problem is discouraging but at least the Navy is moving forward with a newfound clarity of thought and understanding of what needs to be done.  We won’t see these problems crop up again.

And then, after all that, there’s this,

"Truman will begin a maintenance period at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in October to ensure the carrier is prepared for its expedited deployment. The availability will be about one-quarter of the 200,000 man-days originally planned, said Rear Adm. Richard Berkey, who heads fleet maintenance for FFC."

The availability will be one-quarter of what’s needed.

One-quarter of what’s needed.


What happened to understanding the problem?  What happened to recognizing why the maintenance problems got to be so bad to begin with?  What happened to lessons learned?

Are you kidding me?  Are you serious?  Is Navy leadership really that stupid?  This is why I started this blog.  I saw a caste of leaders that were devoid of intelligence and integrity and were violating the trust of the sailors under their command and the trust of the American people.  This absolutely infuriates me.

CNO Greenert, where are you?  You are abdicating your responsibility.  Get out of my Navy.

(1)Navy Times, "Flattop flip-flop: Repair problems force schedule change-up", Oct. 18, 2014,


  1. Picture at the top of a page a rectangle labeled "Requirements", with a large capital "R". Looking up at this true picture of the world, the operators, the offices who fund things, and the engineers all see different pictures. To the extent that their views intersect, we have a clear understanding of what needs to get done. To the extent that their viewpoints disagree (for structural or other reasons), we will have disconnects and risks. In this case, the more immediate risk is to the sailor that has to face a completely neutral enemy, the sea. The sea does not care that you wasted your money on acquisition programs that should never have seen the light of day. The sea does not care if you cannot decide which way the nation should pivot, causing you to delay making hard decisions regarding the use of your dwindling funds. It will simply continue to rot your hull from without (and from within if things have gotten that bad). Mechanical wear and electrical material failures have the same attitude.
    So, stop putting on your happy face, pull up your big boy pants, and concentrate on the people who will be the first to feel the effects of failed equipment when bad people start launching weapons.

    1. Alan, I think I understand your point but I'm not 100% sure. Would you care to rephrase it just to be totally clear?

  2. Maintenance issues are ones that always seem to be there, but do they have to be?

    Here is what happens, DoD buys equipment with all good intentions of doing all the required maintenance at the required intervals, but ... it never does. There are a few factors that influence this. First one is time. It seems there is always some other pressing issue that trumps skipping or delaying the event, how many of us have put off an oil change? For the moment, the consequence of missing or delaying the event does not show any ill effect, so this behavior continues. It now becomes common place and not a concern. The other issue is money, DoD never budgets or has enough money to do all the maintenance that needs to be done. When this happens, the deferred or delayed maintenance action takes place. The event rarely disappears, but gets delayed. So the amount of work that needs to be done increases, the money to complete the current work, plus the delayed work is never enough, and the manpower/throughput to get ahead of the work does not exist.

    Last thing to pile on this is DoD insatiable appetite for more ... "I need another Cruiser in theater, troops and their equipment need to stay 6-months longer, etc ... No one ever tells the combatant commander "No; work with what you have."

    So, the behavior and money do not support a healthy maintenance program; start with changing behavior and fund maintenance efforts properly and see what happens.

    1. AJF, you've touched on some of the superficial or secondary reasons why maintenance is chronically underfunded and underperformed. The deeper, and main, reason is the Navy's obsession with new construction (see, "The Altar of New Construction"). The Navy will sacrifice any one and any thing to ensure new construction and maintenance is an easy target. The lack of money, time, or resources for maintenance are all just byproducts of the obsession with new construction. I've identified the trend but I have, thus far, failed to identify the rationale behind this obsession. Perhaps it's as simple as the desire to maintain their slice of the DoD funding pie but I think there's something deeper.

      Many (most?) of the Navy's ills derive, ultimately, from this obsession. Read the linked post and think about it and you'll begin to see the pattern.

  3. CNO ... I always find your comments and perspective very interesting, you provoke good discussion.

    Read the New Construction post, do not see the direct correlation that you profess. As for money, SCN and OMN, two different pots of money, one is not normally traded for the other. SCN buys new construction, OMN funds the O&S costs; again, two different pots of money.

    Obsession with New Construction may be a problem, but disagree and can not see how maintenance of existing force suffers because of it. Years ago I worked in the N4 OPNAV shop, responsible for all the Navy O&S and depot level maintenance; new construction did not influence our budgeting decisions.

    1. AJF, you say you don't see the connections between "everything" and new construction. I'm hesitant to reply because once I start I'll want to write a post or a book on the subject. Instead, I'll suggest the type of connection that exists and you see if you can expand your thoughts on it and see other connections.

      Let's consider ship life cycle costs. Conventional wisdom is that the number of sailors on a ship is the major factor in those costs (not sure I believe that but that's a topic for another time). Two different account lines - no connection. Or is there? Navy desperately wants to build a new cruiser, let's say. However, the budget is flat and there are no extra sailors to man the new cruiser. How do we crew the new ship? Simple, we early retire two frigates (or an amphib or whatever). Alternatively (or in conjunction), we institute reduced manning programs and ignore the impact the reduced manning has on maintenance, damage control, watchkeeping, morale, etc. As long as get the new ship, that's all that matters. Thus, we see that new construction is driving manning shortages, maintenance problems, etc.

      When we begin to broaden our view of the interrelationships among the various "separate accounts" in the Navy we begin to see that the myopic obsession with new construction is directly causing many (most?) of the Navy's problems.

      As I said, I'm going to stop myself, here, and trust you to reason out all the various relationships and root causes. If you have a specific question, let me know.

    2. AJF, you clearly have a preconceived notion about this. Nothing wrong with that. In science it's called an hypothesis. However, the challenge is to set aside the preconceived notion and follow the data and logic wherever it leads. Consider the logic of the broader relationships and interconnections and see if they don't lead you to the same place (conclusion) they lead me!

    3. CNO … Thanks for the reply.

      So, if I understand you correctly, your perception is that DON desperately wants to build a new ship, but does not have the money, so … They devise a plan that will remove money from other accounts and lay the framework to supply all the resources required to build this ship? Do I have it correct? “As long as get (sic) the new ship, that’s all that matters”; really? If this is how you really feel, I am sorry that is this is the picture painted by our Navy.

      New construction is establishing new challenges and are we failing to man and maintain these platforms properly, yes, I agree. But what I do not agree with is that we are gutting other programs or cooking books in other accounts to build shiny new ships; just not happening.

      Contrary to your observations, I do not have a preconceived notion about this, I found your perception interesting but fundamentally incorrect, that is why I commented the way I did. So agree to disagree on the root cause to maintenance problems, sticking to my guns on this; maintenance problems are due to poor behavior/practices, delaying required maintenance and the lack of money to properly execute. Manning problems leading to lack of manpower to accomplish unit level maintenance is just that, a manning problem that in most cases, is being fixed, for example:


      What needs to be done is a better job up front to really flesh out how reduced manning will effect a ship and make sure we understand what we are doing when the numbers are significant changes. It is a challenge and people are trying to put good solutions in place to address funding shortfalls, but we need to think these things through instead of just allowing it to happen. Fixing it after the fact is not the way to run a Navy.

  4. Thanks CNO ... Never me goal to "win" these discussion, just presenting my opinion based on many years of Naval service as an operator, provider and DC warrior. Open to other opinions and look forward to healthy discussion; I always learn something from them.