Sunday, August 12, 2012

Fleetwide Maintenance - Improving?

Most people who follow the Navy know that the Navy has a severe readiness and maintenance problem stemming from multiple poor decisions over the last couple of decades.  Things got so bad that the Navy finally commissioned an internal investigation headed by Admiral Harvey.  The findings were published in a report in Feb 2010 and confirmed the sad state of neglect that the Navy had fallen into. 

Improved Maintenance?

On the plus side, the Navy appears to have responded to the report by implementing a number of changes and (hopefully) improvements.  Adm. Harvey has just issued a memo (1) documenting the actions taken and, in some cases, benefits that are already becoming evident.

It is worth noting the scope of the issue by reviewing some of the problems as highlighted in the summary of the Feb 2010 report included in the memo.

-         The various maintenance centers saw a reduction in billets from 8,000 to 2,500 during the several years prior to 2010.
-         The 9 week availability schedule proved insufficient to accomplish needed maintenance.
-         Optimal manning of ships and reduction of grade levels for billets led to loss of knowledge, experience, and oversight aboard ships.
-         Training was found to be insufficient with C-School being 35% underutilized. 
-         At-sea training was found to be lacking in time and quality.
-         Backup systems were being systematically allowed to degrade so as to save money on repairs.
-         Housekeeping, preservation, and corrosion control standards declined over time.  As the report noted, “Over time, the ignored standard becomes the new norm.”
-         Surface ship maintenance was significantly underfunded over the previous decade or more.
-         Aegis systems have experienced fleetwide degradation in performance, maintenance, and spare parts availability.

The memo goes on to describe the administrative, organizational, and policy changes implemented to address the issues.

-         Increased emphasis is being placed on the process of certification of completion of maintenance work to ensure that the work is done properly.
-         Increased emphasis is being placed on ship assessments of various types to ensure that the scope of needed maintenance is being accurately understood and planned for.
-         Increased emphasis is being placed on maintenance to ensure that a ship’s estimated and designed life span is met.  This is an attempt to ensure that forced early ship retirements due to lack of maintenance do not occur.
-         Corrosion control is being emphasized with the assistance of outside experts.
-         Increased emphasis on daily maintenance standards.
-         Manning, both military and civilian, is being increased at the various maintenance centers.
-         Increased emphasis on the use of C-Schools.
-         Implementing Maintenance Assist Teams to directly assist the ships with higher level maintenance.
-         Increased emphasis on shipboard training.
-         Provision of expert level support for Aegis systems.
-         Increased stocking of spare parts.
-         Increased support and training for propulsion systems.
-         Increased frequency and effectiveness of INSURV inspections.

All of the steps taken and documented in the memo are long overdue and the Navy is to be commended for beginning to reverse the maintenance decline.  I hope these are sincere efforts and not short term “look good” steps that will be soon abandoned and forgotten. 

What the memo does not address is the root cause behind why the fleetwide maintenance debacle occurred in the first place.  If the root cause is not addressed and corrected, the problems will simply resurface.  As we’ve previously discussed, the root cause is the Navy’s fixation on funding new construction above all else.  Reduced manning, training, and maintenance were all implemented to free up more funding for new construction.  Until the Navy recognizes this and changes their philosophy the problems are going to continue.  The improvements described in the memo are at risk of being just temporary band-aids that will soon be abandoned.

Another troubling aspect of the attempts at improvement involves the extensive focus on policy changes and documentation.  I’ve found throughout my career in industry that when policy becomes the focus it’s because common sense, initiative, and accountability have disappeared.  Rather than empowering people to do what’s obviously needed and then supporting with them with the required resources, policy takes the place of responsibility, action, and accountability.  Leadership fails to step forward and do what’s right, instead they fall back on policy, doing only what’s dictated.  Policy inevitably becomes self-defeating by being inherently limiting rather than encompassing.  Consider the following quote from the memo.

“There are 350 separate instructions under review in 20 categories gathered from the RMCs spanning the maintenance end-to-end (E2E) process.  The review will result in 12 standard “role-based” desk guides for use at each RMC that act as Maintenance Team Engineering Operational Sequencing System (EOSS) for the maintenance E2E process.”
This is just churning of documentation into different forms.  It doesn’t provide for initiative or a sense of responsibility.  It’s the typical result of a paper study:  more paper!

Still, the Navy has taken at least some steps towards improving the maintenance situation.  Let’s hope they take the lessons to heart and continue to focus on maintaining the fleet at a combat-ready level.  We’ll watch and see!

(1) Dept of the Navy, Memo: Surface Ship Material Readiness Improvements, Adm. Harvey, 3-Aug-12

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