Build the Yards Now
what is your effective/efficient ratio?
Today is a busy day at the paying gig for ‘ole Sal, so I’m going to take what really should be a long post and cut it to the core. Of course, it will still be too long
Yes, we are enjoying the harvest of our long discussed wages of happy talk when it comes to our maritime industrial base. It is, in a fashion, rather sad to watch our own deliberate and chosen decline.
Enough “problem admiration” and waiting for something to be extruded by the janissaries in the Potomac Flotilla. They have lost their right to demand deference. The last couple of decades have measured them and found them wanting. We should put them in some kind of bureaucratic quarantine until the right Congress and Chief Executive can put them in hospice.
Our problem did not happen overnight and won’t be fixed overnight. It does not have one cause and it won’t have one solution. This was all plain to see well over a decade ago. Hell, two decades ago.
The old phrase, "there's a lot of ruin in a nation" - well, there is a lot of ruin in a navy. One generation can feast on the hard won capital of the previous generation for quite awhile until there is but a skeleton left of what was once a mighty host.
I’m not sure who if anyone in Congress is willing to take this on, but I have an offer to all: for the next few POM cycles, stop chasing more ship numbers, we have to fix a larger problem first.
We cannot build a larger fleet until we rebuild the infrastructure to properly maintain the one we have.
Yards. Build more; expand the ones we have; reactivate retired yards if able.
I don’t need to identify the detailed challenges in doing this, they will manifest themselves during the process and can be resolved at the execution level. What is needed now is movement.
Outside some blinkered high priests of the Cult of Efficiency, no sane person thinks we have a properly capitalized shipyard and repair infrastructure for an active peace, much less any large scale Pacific War.
Does this seem normal to you?
A US Navy nuclear-powered submarine that ran into an underwater mountain while transiting the South China Sea in 2021 will be sidelined from service for at least a few more years as it waits to be repaired.
The USS Connecticut, a highly revered fast-attack submarine, is stuck at a shipyard in Washington state waiting for maintenance to begin, Bloomberg reported this week. Repairs to the vessel's bow and lower rudder are set to cost about $80 million and keep the Seawolf-class submarine sidelined until 2026 at the earliest.
The drawn-out repairs for the Connecticut highlight the repair backlogs and capacity issues with regard to fixing damaged vessels the Navy is facing. This has long been a serious problem — one that officials at the Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency, have said is negatively affecting readiness, according to the report. Bloomberg reported, citing Navy records, that 18 of 49 attack subs were unavailable for service because of maintenance.
Using a measure of time I defined eight years ago, the WorldWar, the end of CY26 is .96 of a WorldWar.
Yes, that is just from today - almost the length of time it took the USA to fight and win WWII.
If you include, which you should, the time from their 02 OCT 2021 game of chicken with the seabed, then we are looking at 1.4 WorldWars.
No one is hiding the ball here. We cannot build more submarines when we can’t even repair the ones we have. Again, if we cannot do this a peace, how will we repair and maintain during combat operations that we should expect to go years?
Part of this is the planning fallacy of the “72-hr War” that plagues not just the Potomac Flotilla, but the entire DC military nomenklatura. They know we are in trouble, but in their entitled arrogance, they don’t worry anyone will hold them accountable to any significant measure:
A recent Government Accountability Office report analyzing trends in military readiness found that the Navy’s readiness and mission capability decreased between 2017 and 2021.
The service has consistently failed to rectify long-running challenges in keeping ships at congressionally-mandated conditions and has accumulated a maintenance backlog of $1.8 billion, according to the report. Derelict docks where ships are repaired and sustained are part of the problem; another issue is that the surface fleet is under-manned and sailors are not getting enough sleep.
Most equipment at shipyards, where Navy vessels are docked for repairs and maintenance when not deployed, is past its service life, according to another GAO report from May 2022. While the Navy has scoped out upgrades to dry dock infrastructure, the estimated cost of doing so has inflated by at least $4 billion while detailed plans on shipyard modernization are years delayed.
Poor shipyard conditions in turn mean the Navy struggles to maintain its surface vessel and submarine fleet, according to the GAO’s findings. And, the Navy is under scrutiny for a string of accidents, including a fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard in 2020 that led to a loss of the ship and two deadly crashes in 2017 that killed 17 sailors.
Things, especially on the submarine side of the house, are so fragile - basic union and insurance issues can grind what is now the world’s second largest navy to a halt;
The U.S. Navy has settled an insurance dispute with two key shipbuilding companies that has delayed the ordering of two Virginia-class submarines, according to people familiar with the matter.
The dispute centered on who should pay if a Tomahawk cruise missile were to accidentally explode during construction, damaging or destroying a nuclear-powered submarine worth more than $3 billion. For years, the Navy had indemnified the yards—Electric Boat, which is owned by General Dynamics, and Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of HII—essentially providing the insurance that the yards found difficult to obtain from a private insurer.
But in 2018, the Navy decided the arrangement heaped too much risk on the service, and ceased to offer indemnification. The service asked the shipyards to find private insurance, but they declined. In February 2022, the Navy suspended plans to order long-lead parts for two Virginia-class attack submarines. “Under the current law, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro makes the final decision on indemnification for Navy and Marine Corps contracts,” USNI News wrote in December.
In January, Del Toro urged the companies to come to the table and negotiate.
Let’s keep the focus on the submarine side of the house.
What is to be done when it looks like budgets will at best be a few percentage points behind inflation? Almost every COA/OPLAN/CONOPS against the People’s Liberation Army Navy relies heavily on the combat power forward that the USN’s SSN/SSGN force uniquely brings.
If you are focused on combat effectiveness, ask yourself what is better:
Another submarine displacing water pierside and giving you another unit on your PPT.
Enough shipyard support to enable faster repairs so three more SSN/SSGN are combat ready for sea?
You’d be a fool to pick #1. That is where we are.
As the pressure right now is to pump out as many SSN as we a can and those SSN yards are having trouble enough hiring enough of a skilled workforce, what is there to do?
Look to the GAO report 19-229 from November 2018 - almost half a decade ago. Things have not improved since then;
GAO’s analysis of Navy maintenance data shows that between fiscal year 2008 and 2018, attack submarines have incurred 10,363 days of idle time and maintenance delays as a result of delays in getting into and out of the shipyards. For example, the Navy originally scheduled the USS Boise to enter a shipyard for an extended maintenance period in 2013 but, due to heavy shipyard workload, the Navy delayed the start of the maintenance period. In June 2016, the USS Boise could no longer conduct normal operations and the boat has remained idle, pierside for over two years since then waiting to enter a shipyard (see figure). GAO estimated that since fiscal year 2008 the Navy has spent more than $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2018 constant dollars to support attack submarines that provide no operational capability—those sitting idle while waiting to enter the shipyards, and those delayed in completing their maintenance at the shipyards.
What do we have right now to work with?
The four public naval shipyards—Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility—provide depot-level maintenance, which the Navy describes as the most involved and time-consuming maintenance work, such as overhauls, alterations, refits, restorations, nuclear refueling, and deactivations. As we reported in 2016, these activities are crucial to supporting attack submarine readiness. Two private shipyards—General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding—build the Navy’s nuclear-powered ships, including attack submarines, and in some cases provide depot-level maintenance for attack submarines.
Newport News and Electric Boat are tapped out and the public yards can’t get the job done already.
The Navy may have options to mitigate idle time and maintenance delays. For example, officials at the private shipyards—General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding—told us that they will have available capacity for repair work for at least the next 5 years.17 Although the Navy has shifted about 8 million man-hours in attack submarine maintenance to private shipyards over the past 5 years, it has done so sporadically, having decided to do so in some cases only after experiencing lengthy periods of idle time. According to private shipyard officials, the sporadic shifts in workload have resulted in repair workload gaps that have disrupted private shipyard workforce, performance, and capital investment—creating costs that are ultimately borne in part by the Navy
Here is where we have analysis paralysis.
…without a complete accounting of all costs, benefits, and risks, the Navy will remain unable to determine whether the cost of performing a maintenance period at a private shipyard would outweigh the mission benefits of having reduced idle time, additional operational availability, and the potential for reduced risk to submarine construction programs.
Will we have to wait another half decade expecting things to change while we continue to do the same thing?
There is both a public and a private answer. As we’ve already run out of time, I would prefer to mitigate risk by pushing forward with both.
Earlier this year, our friend Jerry Hendrix made the argument for more public yards for surface and subsurface;
Since 2010, however, when the rise of China as a challenger at sea emerged, this efficiency-focused minimum-capacity industrial base model has been rendered obsolete. What is required now is a return to an industrial-base policy that focuses on significantly increased repair capacity, with efficiency in mind but not of paramount importance. The paradigm must immediately shift from efficiency to effective capacity as the goal. The nation needs at least two more public Navy yards.
We’ve had some rather inventive offers out there on the table on the private side of the house as well.
Remember the challenges about access to more skilled industrial craftsmen? I didn’t even mention the crowded real estate issue with existing facilities that goes with it.
How about the Great Lakes?
Wait … hear me out. Have you been briefed in on Bartlett Maritime’s option?
Bartlett Maritime Corporation was formed in 2019 after extensive delays in submarine maintenance were spelled out in the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s GAO Report 19-229 titled, “Navy Readiness: Actions Needed to Address Costly Maintenance Delays Facing the Attack Submarine Fleet.”
Bartlett and a board of directors set out to provide a solution. The Bartlett Maritime Plan provides details on a new shipyard, manufacturing facility and two ATBs to move the U. S. Navy submarines into the system for repairs and maintenance. Given a firm contract with the Navy, Bartlett will proceed with building two Ohio-based companies American Naval Depot in Lordstown and American Naval Shipyard in Lorain.
Yep, Ohio. It is unquestionably doable in the heart of American’s industrial heartland.
"Ohio has always been home to key elements of America's naval industrial base," said Captain Edward Bartlett, USMM, and founder of Bartlett Maritime Corporation. "Every nuclear-powered ship in the U.S. Navy, for instance, features unique components and equipment that were designed and built in Ohio. The Bartlett Maritime Plan builds on Ohio's long heritage of support for the U.S. Navy and leverages the state's abundant resources and world-class union workforce to help the Navy address the national security challenges associated with both nuclear-powered ship maintenance and submarine construction."
The new facilities would bring thousands of union jobs to Northeast Ohio. According to the plan, 4,000 permanent metal trades union jobs and 2,000 to 3,000 jobs for construction workers would be created.
"Union workers built this country and strengthened our national security. Ohioans in Lorain, Lordstown and across the state are ready now to do our part by expanding and improving our Naval shipyard performance," said Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga. "Strategic investments in the Marine Highway are crucial to the Navy's efficiencies and readiness and workers in Ohio and the Great Lakes region have what it takes to advance this mission."
If you have a better option, I’d love to see it. However - right here, right now - we have everyone in place and ready to go, all they need is a funding line.
Industrial, political, union, and popular support - that’s taken care of. The money should be the easy part.
Ah yes, the money? The solution is there as well.
Hey, I’d love to be able to wave a magic wand and grow the defense budget above inflation, but that isn’t going to happen. I’d love to plant some magic beans and move half the US Army to the reserves and National Guard and shift the savings to the Navy, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon either.
So, where do you get the money? I’ll let you answer that.
Just using round numbers, would you prefer to meet the enemy with 10 ships which only had half their weapons, 2/3 of their personnel, and at least one of them breaks down before contact with the enemy, or would you rather lead a fleet of 7 that were Fully Mission Capable, fully manned, and properly trained?
I’d take 7 effective over 10 efficient every day. You do you.