Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Keep Buying More Ships

Recently, I mentioned that we’re producing ship captains and crews whose tours never leave dock.  I get the feeling that some of you may not have believed me.  Well, here’s a timely example.

The move of attack submarine USS Boise (SSN-764) to the dry dock at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia ... after the sub has been sitting pier side at nearby Norfolk Naval Shipyard for more than four years waiting for maintenance to begin. (1)

A submarine – one of our precious and most valuable assets – sitting pier side for four years waiting for maintenance.

Let’s just keep buying new ships, though, Navy.  Why invest in shipyards and drydocks when we can get Congress to approve new ships?  So what if most of our carriers and half our sub fleet is sitting idle.  As long as we can buy new ships, we’re happy!

How has no one been fired?


Nothing To Do But Wait


______________________________

(1)USNI News website, “NAVSEA Says Attack Sub Repairs Much Improved as USS Boise Enters Yard Following 4-Year Wait”, Megan Eckstein, 26-May-2020,
https://news.usni.org/2020/05/26/navsea-says-attack-sub-repairs-much-improved-as-uss-boise-enters-yard-following-4-year-wait

39 comments:

  1. I would agree. Congress irrespective of the side of the political divide should tell the USN to shut up about its numbers and demand they properly run the fleet it has. training, maintenance, repair facilities, high intensity games and actual weapon use in training, and realistic stockpiles of ammunition before it gets new toys.

    It not like that would be a budge cut or anything just different spending. So thay would loose out in the petty politics of the Pentagon and worry about slicing up the pie.

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  2. Agreed on the need to right the ship we have first. I'd also suggest an undiscovered country approach too. The offshore industry is really going to need help. It would be good to have ships that can make use of their construction and maintenance capacity.

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  3. It's the 1994 Russian Navy. Rusting away pierside.

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    1. At least they had the excuse of not having any actual funding.

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  4. Now we know why they do so well after 35 years, because they are still like brand new. Hey Canada or Taiwan, want to buy a nuke sub? "Just broken in, like mint..."

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  5. So what is the root cause here?

    I know we've gotten rid of several Navy shipyards. Are we just out of yards?

    Or is there some deeper management issue?

    I mean it's not too hard to set ups an Excel spreadsheet with ship names down the left hand column and months across the top and figure out who needs to go to the yard when. That seems like a pretty basic step. The figure out how many ships need to go in at which time and how many yards you need at each point in time and what special capabilities they need. Then plan from there.

    How do you possibly get it this bollixed up?

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    1. "So what is the root cause here?"

      I can actually answer this!

      As you might guess, there is more than one root cause. Here are some of the more important ones, in no particular order.

      1. Scope of work estimates are hugely wrong. This, I think, is far and away the number one problem. The Navy and the yard inspect a ship and make an estimate of the amount of work. The problem is that when they actually start on the work, they find many times more work than was evident in the inspection. This is common and understandable, in a sense. For example, until you opened that pump to do a quick, minor impellor replacement, you weren't able to see that the entire inside was corroded and now the entire pump has to be replaced. Why does this happen? It's entirely due to the Navy's policy of deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance doesn't accumulate in a linear fashion, it accumulates in an almost exponential fashion over time. The longer you defer maintenance, the more there is the more severe it is.

      Void spaces and storage tanks are infamous for this. If maintained regularly, you pretty well know what condition they'll be in. However, if you let their maintenance slide, they'll corrode in an almost exponential fashion and you'll be stunned at the added scope when you finally open and inspect them.

      Thus, the work estimates / schedules are hugely off which causes a cascade of schedule failures and ships sitting idle for months and years waiting for their turn. There's hardly a month goes by where I don't read about another ship whose maintenance period is going to take many months longer than expected.

      2. The labor force is severely undermanned. The yards are crying for labor and doing everything they can to entice new workers but they're coming up short by the thousands. This is partly due to our society's indoctrination of our high school students that if you don't go to college, you're a failure. As a society, we've abandoned vocational education. Little wonder, then, that we can't entice young people into the shipbuilding trades. Even when we can hire new people, it takes years to learn the trades enough to be effective so any gains we make in hiring today won't be felt for 2-5 years.

      3. The Navy steadfastly refuses to allocate money to shipbuilding and maintenance infrastructure and support. We're not buying drydocks. We're not maintaining existing drydocks. We're not expanding shops. We're not updating facilities (many are 50-100 years old). We're not buying new cranes. And so on.

      There you have it. If I were SecNav, I'd put a total moratorium on new ship construction and turn all the yards to total maintenance until every ship in the fleet was 100% up to standard and ready. Then, and only then, would I resume new construction and I'd only do so if the Navy leadership could give me a plan to maintain that level of maintenance as new ships were added.

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    2. Thoughts:

      1. So I'm guessing reduced manning isn't working out so well on the maintenance front. We don't do the maintenance, so we don't know what we have or need.

      2. The disappearance of vocational education manifests itself in so many ways. The idea that everyone has to go to university is one of the dumbest things ever.

      3. How much money have we wasted on useless gadgets like the Zumwalts and the LCSs, when all the Navy had to do was properly maintain the Spruces (of which we'd still have 6 if they had been kept for 40 year lives), Knoxes (which were kept about 20 years each), and Perrys (of which we would still have 51 if they had been kept for 40-year lives)? We don't have the ASW force we need these days, because we got rid of all our ASW platforms.

      I guess a corollary question I would have is how much are our maintenance issues related to undermanning and how much to we don't build them like we used to?

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    3. Get rid of the Zumwalts and LCSs and retain 57 useful ASW platforms, and we'd be way better off--financially, strategically, and tactically--than we are today.

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    4. CDR Chip

      "2. The disappearance of vocational education manifests itself in so many ways. The idea that everyone has to go to university is one of the dumbest things ever."

      Err no the problem is the fact that since 1980 we have not been willing to pay taxes to sustain HS programs and Community colleges that could offer those opportunities. Producing well trained vocational graduates ready to be skilled trades workers.

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    5. Except that the amount of money that we have spent on primary and secondary education has skyrocketed over the 40 years since 1980. The problem is that we have been spending it in the wrong places--on administrators and social engineering experiments and Kumbaya feel-good activities instead of spending it on classroom education. And the concept of mainstreaming has taken us clearly away from providing vocational and other opportunities for students who needed them. It's not a lack of money, it's incredible and, I would argue, criminal mismanagement by those whom we have entrusted to run our educational system.

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    6. "criminal mismanagement by those whom we have entrusted to run our educational system."

      Yes, but the real crime is our failure to rise up as individual parents and demand better. When was the last time you (the generic you, meaning each of us) went to your PTA or school board and demanded specific changes? We're content to let others do our work for us. It's our fault.

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    7. After retiring from the Corps I went to work in the shipyards. Welders, pipefitters, ship fitters, all the trades..easy for them to make over 100K a year. If a welder shows up in Hampton Roads Va with any sort of qualifications, it is a quick welding test and he is hired immediately. The workers now play shipyard roulette. You hire the same guy 3-4 times.
      As a Superintendent, I saw first hand the failure of scope of work. Every fan room I went into grew at least 100% over initial work estimates.
      What happened to the LSD's was criminal. The tank work was deferred for years and when they finally went into the tanks to repair them....it was to the point of building a brand new tank. 9 month drydockings turned into over a year and a half.
      The Navy is not faultless in this. The rules ship repair yards are held to are extreme in the extreme. The NAVSEA Standard Items and the JFMM (Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual) are the guide books for repair to non-nuclear ships. They are so burdensome and filled with extraneous nonsense that even if a ship repair yard wanted to "do the right thing" their hands are tied by the JFMM and Standard Items.
      The Navy tried to do a MSMO (Multi Ship Multi Option) contract with the shipyards thinking it would bring down costs as more ships of that class ran through the yards. What did not change was the foresight into the repairs each vessel would require. Because if it bad on LHD 1, you could guarantee it was bad on LHD 3, 5, and 7. Again the shipyards hands were tied as it is required to write the work specification to EXACTLY what is called out on the Work Notification....even if you know it is wrong and will generate RCC's (Requests for Contract Changes) by the contractor.
      Navy ship maintenance is a freaking nightmare. I lived the "dream" for 10 years as a Superintendent.

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    8. "After retiring from the Corps I went to work in the shipyards."

      Really great, informative, fascinating comment. Sincerely, thank you for sharing your experiences. If you're so motivated, please tell us more!

      Any thoughts on what can be done in the short term to somewhat improve things? Or, is it a hopeless cause at this point?

      If you were king for a day, what would you do to attract more skilled trade workers from the high schools and colleges? For example, I've always thought that the shipyards should stage recruiting demonstrations on high school campuses and show the kids what kind of work they can do and how they can get a guaranteed good job. Sitting back and waiting for someone to come to you isn't working. We need to aggressively 'recruit' high school kids.

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  6. What is the crew doing during this extended pier visit?? How is it that, short of a refuelling,or drydock work, the crew isnt capable of doing repairs, upgrades, etc??? How is it that any system aboard cant be opened up and repaired?? I recall 'A' school training for that kinda thing....

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    1. "How is it that any system aboard cant be opened up and repaired?? I recall 'A' school training for that kinda thing...."

      I have no idea but I do know that for nuclear ships, repairs and maintenance MUST be performed according to SUBSAFE regulations which are vast, onerous, and complex. No ship's crew is capable of managing that.

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  7. This is just gross incompetence.

    How can our navy have sunk to this level?

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    1. Have you not believed what I've been saying on this blog, all along?

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    2. Actually it's the exact opposite.

      I believe that you are right on target with your observations and analysis.

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  8. Touching on lack of vocational training. People dont understand how things work anymore. Part of that is things are an electronic black box of mystery.
    Another large part is lack of dad's. Working on car in garage. Minor wood woodworking. Fixing deck. Changing tires.
    I see it at my job. It is a coal power plant.
    This isnt a rant against the new generation, they just lack the experience. The Navy has to make up for that, but sometimes there is no substitute for experience.

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  9. Keep buying upgrades! Here's a piece on USS McCain's collision in 2017:

    https://features.propublica.org/navy-uss-mccain-crash/navy-installed-touch-screen-steering-ten-sailors-paid-with-their-lives/

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    1. What on earth were they thinking when they did this? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

      I know merchies have a lot of automated systems, but they are concerned about dollars, not fighting ability. This seems an absurd thing to change on a warship.

      Does it save one sailor on a watch team? At a cost of how many hours of labor to make it work? And what happens when it doesn't work?

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    2. You're neglecting the Dilbert Principle. In large companies, idiots are selectively promoted into management, because they do less harm there, in the short term. The problem comes when they feel that, as managers, they should be in charge and setting directions. The slight problem with that is that they have no idea what the direction should be, because they don't understand their employers' products or technology.

      There are large branches of the consultancy and business support industries devoted to explaining and spreading trends and fashions in technology and management. Military officers in management roles are a small and specialised market for these industries, so they get the generic stuff. Reduced manning on the bridge of Navy ships was sold to the Navy because that was what the consultants had to sell, not because it was applicable.

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  10. One point not mentioned, nuclear, with all the additional costs entailed in meeting safety, environmental and security standards required in handling radio active materials. Results in limited number of nuclear capable shipyards required for maintenance of CVNs, SSBNs, SSGNs and SSNs, SSNs at bottom of the priority list and that's why USS Boise was sitting pier side for four years.

    Navy now pumping big $ into the nuclear shipyards, Norfolk payroll upped from 33,000 up to 36,700 people in last few years. Never seen an estimate of the additional capital and running costs required to operate a nuclear shipyard compared to conventional shipyard.

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    1. "One point not mentioned, nuclear, with all the additional costs entailed in meeting safety, environmental and security standards required in handling radio active materials. ... Never seen an estimate of the additional capital and running costs required to operate a nuclear shipyard compared to conventional shipyard."

      I've considered this but have not included it in discussions because I'm unable to find any comparative data. While it certainly seems like there would be additional costs, I can't demonstrate it with data so I can't present it as fact.

      As I've demonstrated so often on this blog, much of what we believed to be true turned out not to be so without data I'm going to refrain from accepting that nuclear yards are more expensive. They likely are but I want data before I proclaim it as fact!

      If you ever come across any data, let us know!

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    2. Ive actually wondered that myself. When the BRAC hammer fell on LBNS, which my dad had just retired from, it was aming other reasons cited, that it wasnt nuclear capable. Conversely it was the only Naval shipyard operating at or under budget, and had adequate drydocks and facilities to become 'nuclear capable', but was shuttered anyway. It was sad to hear of, as I grew up climbing all over ships and being down in those drydocks...

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    3. CNO "If you ever come across any data, let us know!"

      When Navy talks of build costs of Ford and future savings on follow on CVNs they quote projected reduction of construction labor hours, would be of interest if we knew the labor rates charged at HII NNS and GD NASSCO so as able to have a near apples to apples comparison of nuclear to conventional shipyard costs :)

      Actual nuclear reactor data, GAO-18-158 Dec 2017 Columbia Class, quote reduction in maintenance period required from 27 months with the Ohio to 16 months with the Columbia's new S1B nuclear reactor which does not need nuclear refuelling as built for 42.5 year life.

      That's a 40 percent SSBN reduction in time spent in shipyard for equivalent CVN RCOH, think it reasonable you should be able to directly read across to CVN RCOH? Washington RCOH forecast to take four years, a 40% time saving would reduce mid-life maintenance to two years five months (previous RCOH for Abraham Lincoln RCOH was four years seven months after last deployment to re-delivery to fleet).

      Think also it would be fair assumption as time equals cost to use 40% reduction in cost of the RCOH for the CVNs, BreakingDefense Feb 2019 quoted $6.5 billion for Truman RCOH, a 40% saving would be ~$2.6 billion which would directly apply to a conventional carrier, ignoring any additional costs saved by use of a non-nuclear shipyard.

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    4. "Uh … no. While you are arithmetically correct, the underlying assumption that the work scales from a small (relative to a carrier) ship to a large carrier is suspect and highly unlikely. Another way to look at it is that the yard time savings of (27-16 = 11) 11 months, when applied to the estimated 4 year Washington RCOH would result in a RCOH of (48 months - 11 months = 37 months).

      The sheer, staggering amount of non-nuclear overhaul on a carrier precludes a direct comparison of the SSBN to CVN.

      "Think also it would be fair assumption as time equals cost to use 40% reduction in cost of the RCOH for the CVNs, BreakingDefense Feb 2019 quoted $6.5 billion for Truman RCOH, a 40% saving would be ~$2.6 billion"

      Again, no. We've pretty well discredited the RCOH cost estimates as being primarily nuclear related. The bits and pieces of data we can assemble (none direct, to be fair) strongly suggest that the bulk of the RCOH costs are non-nuclear so a simplistic percentage scaling is not valid. Based on all the data I've seen, my estimate is that the direct nuclear portion of the RCOH cost is on the order of 25%.


      RCOH costs aside, the desire was to compare nuclear versus non-nuclear yard operating costs which, as you note, we have no data for.

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    5. Thanks for reply, take your estimate of ~25% cost of CVN RCOH pertains to nuclear refuelling of the reactors, that would be ~ $1.6 billion if believe BreakingDefense figure of $6.5 billion, so would make a total guesstimate a conventional carrier mid-life maintenance approx $2 billion less at $4.5 billion if carried out in a non-nuclear shipyard.

      As always with nuclear Navy buries the costs in deepest vault in the Pentagon so as impossible calculate a ROM figure, which leaves us all to draw our own conclusions.

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  11. I wonder how much of the required repair and maintenance of the vessels is because of poor design or materials and how much is because shipbuilders/manufacturers what a steady stream of new builds/replacement parts.
    We seem to be in a pattern of purchasing vessels that have a hull life of 40 years but the equipment installed has a life of 15 to 20. The vessels are not designed with ease of upgrade/repair in mind, so at 20 years or sooner the Navy buys new instead of upgrading the vessel. The lack of BuShips to oversee the design of ships leaves it in the hands of the manufactures who have an incentive to build new ships rather than maintain the current ships. A poor design that is easy/cheap to build but hard/expensive to maintain drives more business to new builds and results in early retirement of usable vessels. Many of the instruments, that I use at work, were much more difficult to repair in the 1990's than they are today. The current instruments are maintained by the company that sold them rather than the customer. The manufacturer needs to pay for the labor associated with the preventive maintenance and any down time costs associated with unscheduled machine failures, so the designs have become easier to work on and more reliable.
    If shipbuilders got paid for the availability/operational capability of the vessel, I wonder how the design choices would be different than they are currently.

    Back in the mid to late nineties, while I was in grad school, Carderock did a bunch of work on an Advanced double hull design what was cheaper to build, more survivable, and had a lower signature than a conventional vessel. The cost to build was so significantly reduced that they did studies on building the hull from stainless steel for the same cost as a conventional hull. No shipbuilder has taken up the design in the last 25 years. I'll include some links about the Advanced Double Hull. Stainless steel ships would be cool and the scrap value would be high.

    https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5922/885c98150f1af9fce87782a1f44ab664c195.pdf

    http://www.shipstructure.org/Keynote_Beach.pdf

    https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA409221.pdf

    https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/ADA297398.pdf

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    1. "Stainless steel ships would be cool and the scrap value would be high."

      One other advantage of stainless steel is that the magnetic mine threat would be reduced substantially

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  12. This is the same group of people who for the LCS and Zumwalts believe that we should make it so most of the maintenance is done in port by legions of invisible workers.

    Just like fiction that civilian companies can do maintenance cheaper and easier that the army

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    1. One of the [many] problems with the contractor maintenance model is what happens to the contractors when war comes? They'll largely vanish due to safety concerns, laws (civilians in war zones), and being drafted into the armed forces.

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  13. What are our actual, realistic shipyard capabilities today?

    I get that HII Newport News is the only place that can build a nuclear carrier. Does that imply that we should be building conventional carriers too, in order to create at least some indirect price competition? But who can build those?

    And what yards can do major maintenance?

    We've been trying to have a conversation about future navy force structure, but what about the yard capacity to support whatever numbers?

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    1. Absolutely we should be focusing on yard capacity and capability! You're aware that no drydock can currently take the Ford? How's that for some screwed up Navy planning?

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    2. The whole thing is just absolutely bonkers.

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  14. Does the Navy not realize that a huge key to maintaining fleet size is maintaining ships so that they can serve out their useful lives? If we had kept the Spruances and Perrys for their planned 40-year lives, we would currently have 6 Spruances and 51 Perrys. That would go a long, long way toward addressing our current ASW shortfall.

    A few SCUBA divers might be disappointed, but we could take care of them with the LCSs and Zumwalts.

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    1. Are you aware that we are actively early retiring Los Angeles class subs, right now, instead of doing their mid-life refuel and overhaul? It begs the question, why build ships/subs for a 40 year life if we're going to routinely retire them early? We're just kidding ourselves.

      See, Los Angeles Class Retirements

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    2. They have been kind of all over the place on the Los Angeles class. I don't think any have lasted the full 40, but some lasted well into their 30s, while others were gone in under 20 years. I wonder if there were some unique events in some of their lives to account for the difference. I have read some accounts suggesting that maybe the original Los Angeles class wasn't as quiet as would have been liked, but the more recent ones were an improved version, so I would hope that got addressed if it were a real problem.

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