Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Military Sealift Command Maintenance To Be Audited

The Department of Defense Inspector General is going to conduct an audit of the Military Sealift Command’s (MSC) maintenance of Pre-Positioning Ships, according to a 26-Dec-2017 memo. (1)  The audit is in response to a GAO report highlighting material deficiencies in the surge sealift and combat logistics vessels. (2)  The GAO report was, itself, in response to Congressional direction contained in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. (2)

Highlights from the GAO report:

  • The average of the ships in the surge sealift fleet (the collective MSC and Maritime Administration, MARAD, fleets) is 40 years.

  • MSC’s combat logistics fleet consists of 29 auxiliary ships that provide underway replenishment support to the surface fleet.

  • MSC yearly ship casualties have increased from 3 per year in 2012 to around 43 per year in 2016. (from Fig 3 of the GAO report)

  • 83% of MSC ship scheduled maintenance periods during the 2012-2016 time frame took longer than expected, indicating worse than expected material conditions.

  • Readiness test scores for no-notice ship activations have declined and the number of tests have been inadequate with at least one ship never having been tested.

  • Combat logistics ships are not meeting their stated availability goal of 270 days per year.

  • Mission-limiting casualties for combat logistics ships have increased from 69 per year in 2012 to 122 per year in 2016. (from Fig 4 of the GAO report)

The Navy claims to be “in the process” of developing a plan to deal with the declining readiness of the ships but has not established funding or any concrete plans.

The Navy will stop at nothing to fund the LCS and other new warships but is completely ignoring the more important surge sealift and logistics support ships.  This is the very same mentality exhibited by the Navy towards all the other non-glamorous functions such as mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, naval gunfire support, etc.  Navy leadership is focused on the new, shiny, and sexy carriers and Burkes but is ignoring the foundational capabilities of a functional and effective naval fleet.

This GAO report alone should be sufficient to make CNO Richardson resign in shame or be fired by Congress for dereliction of duty.

What will the audit find?  It will find the same things that every other investigation of the Navy has found – that Navy leadership has knowingly and willfully abrogated their responsibilities to the Navy and the nation.


(2)Government Accounting Office, “Navy Readiness Actions Needed to Maintain Viable Surge Sealift and Combat Logistics Fleets”, Aug 2017, GAO-17-503,


  1. I agree. The lack of capacity in logistics ships leads to a massive risk of losing any large war we get into.

    Totally unacceptable. I believe fixing this problem is more of a priority than getting more hulls. The lack of hulls is a problem in peace time but not so much in war time, due to the lack of, "presence" missions and more task force groups.

    We need a strong congress to fix this. No leadership from either side of the isle is standing too to address these issues.

  2. It won't get fixed for a simple reason: there's no money for the obvious necessary systems, only for the flashy useless crap like have to make those shareholders happy and buying a tanker or auxiliary ship ain't it. You have to waste billions on a carrier or the new SSBM, that's where the money goes....

    1. I think you're oversimplifying. The Navy's leadership doesn't answer to shareholders. Yes, I know we want to blame Admirals who go on to take a job with a defense contractor when they retire but, while serving, they still have limited ability to influence the system. Further, only a relative few Admirals take those jobs although we make a big deal out of the ones that do.

      We want to blame Congress but in all my years of observing the acquisition process I've never seen Congress turn down a Navy request for a logistics ships and, instead, direct the Navy to build a carrier.

      The Navy hands Congress a yearly budget/acquisition request that lists the ships they want. Congress 95% of the time simply rubber stamps it and it gets funded. Once in a great while, Congress adds a ship or, even rarer, deletes one but I can't recall a logistics ship ever being deleted.

      That leaves us with the Navy as the culprit for submitting inappropriate requests which fail to ask for logistic ships.

      This much I can see and document. Where my understanding fails is trying to understand why, as a group, the Admirals consistently, year after year, make these poor decisions. These are not dumb men. One also hopes that they have some degree of patriotism and devotion to country. How they can consistently make such poor decisions is the mystery that I can't solve.

      I'd really like to talk to CNO Richardson. He knows perfectly well the deplorable shape the logistics fleet is in and yet he does nothing about it. Why? I'd love to hear him explain and I wish Congress would ask that question - and then fire him.

    2. I don't believe the navy has a desire to fix anything. Ask them and they will tell you they are doing well.
      I think congress should freeze the navy's budget. Simple. No more extra money. BCA is a good as any place to freeze it. Doing more with less can be a good way to make admirals think their requests through. I know, I know, but a man can dream. LOL.

    3. "I don't believe the navy has a desire to fix anything. Ask them and they will tell you they are doing well."

      You're right but that's the mystery. Admirals came up through the fleet. They know things aren't right so why don't they have a desire to fix things? Intelligent men with at least a moderate degree of patriotism and yet they won't fix the Navy. That's the part I can't explain.

  3. What about the United States Merchant Marine

    What logistical role are they to play in a major shooting war across the pacific

    1. They'll perform the same role they did in WWII which was to transport supplies from mainland US to forward bases. They'll do so in convoys, I'm sure (ASW corvettes needed as escorts - one of my themes).

      Unfortunately, from a WWII peak of a couple thousand commercial vessels, we now only have around 150 militarily useful commercial ships. In a war, those are going to be whittled down quickly and we're going to be hurting for transport capacity. There are several hundred US-owned, foreign flagged vessels and I don't know what their status would be in a war.

      We have allowed our merchant fleet to dwindle to near extinction. This is economically and militarily detrimental.

    2. Oh, come on there are virtually a thousand of "non US flagged" but US friendly vessels ( belonging to US allied countries ) that could be hired to do second tier logistics across a ocean if need be in a major shooting war.

    3. I said the exact same thing. There are (I used the phrase, several hundred - you said, virtually a thousand) foreign flagged vessels and I said that I don't know what their status would be in a war. Do you know? Can they legally be "conscripted" by the government? If not, can they be leased? Would the owners want to lease them? Who would pay if they are leased and lost? Who would man them? Typically, US merchant marine have been granted commissions in the US Navy. Would this apply to foreign flagged crews?

      If you know the answers to these questions, tell me! If not, then you don't know the status of these vessels during war either.

      Finally, of the "several hundred" to "virtually a thousand" foreign flagged vessels, many will not be suitable for military use just as not all of our US flagged merchant marine would be. Some will not be in sufficient material condition, some will not have sufficient size or storage capacity to be worthwhile, some will not have adequate cargo handling capability, and so on.

    4. By Virtually a thousand i meant in the possibility of a major shooting war next to WW3 ( without going nuclear that is ) .

      It all depends upon the scenario
      Its one thing if its against NK, another thing if its for defending Taiwan and a totally different thing if its a peer war with China.


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