- As the US Navy struggles to overcome the serious maintenance and readiness challenges affecting the fleet, it is turning to private industry for answers.
- “Did we sail the bottoms off these ships for the past 10 years without doing the appropriate maintenance? The court is coming in saying that’s pretty much the case,” the Navy secretary said of the service’s aircraft carriers. “Are we getting after it? Yeah, we’re getting after it every way we can.”
- Navy officials met with Carnival Cruise Line leaders a few months back to talk about how the company maintains its massive cruise ships so effectively, turning around ships in a matter of weeks while the Navy often thinks about maintenance in years.
The US Navy is looking for answers to its maintenance and readiness problems, and this search brought the service to Carnival Cruise Line.
A few months back, several members of the Carnival Cruise Line team, including former Vice Adm. William Burke, who serves as the chief maritime officer for Carnival Corporation, met with Vice Adm. Tom Moore, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command, a company spokesman told Business Insider. Burke is a former deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics.
“We spent the day discussing how we have been able to do shipyard maintenance as quickly and effectively as we do,” the company spokesman explained. In 2018, Carnival Cruises operated 105 ships and booked $18.9 billion in revenue.
The Navy has been pushing its ships hard for years without maintaining them properly, and now the limited number of suitable shipyards are overwhelmed. Maintenance backlogs and delays, among other issues, have negatively impacted readiness, and it may be years before the Navy can get back on track.
The aircraft carrier fleet is a prime example. Half, if not more, of the Navy’s 11-carrier fleet is in a nondeployable state, several due to extended maintenance availabilities.
“I have a demand for carriers right now that I can’t fulfill,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer admitted Wednesday at a Heritage Foundation event.
“Did we sail the bottoms off these ships for the past ten years without doing the appropriate maintenance? The court is coming in saying that’s pretty much the case,” Spencer explained. “Are we getting after it? Yeah, we’re getting after it every way we can.”
The secretary lamented that the Navy is currently working with hundred-year-old shipyards.
The service has big plans to recapitalize and modernize its four public shipyards to improve overall productivity and reduce maintenance times, but the service’s $21 billion Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) is a 20-year plan.
The Navy needs shorter-term solutions, and it’s been looking to private industry for answers.
“Secretary Spencer believes the Department of the Navy must make every effort to retain and expand our competitive edge,” his spokeswoman, Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, told Business Insider. “To that end he regularly engages with industry to leverage commercial technology and best practices to improve the Department’s warfighting capabilities.
“He has met or spoken with companies from diverse sectors offering differing perspectives on sustainment, maintenance, supply chain management, personnel management, and other topics.”
“We went down and spent some time with Carnival Cruise Line,” the Navy secretary said. “They turn a 700-foot floating hotel on a maintenance avail around in 28 days. It takes us … you pick the month number.”
For instance, the maintenance availability for the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush should have lasted only 16 months, but due to “unique work” demands, it will be stuck at the shipyard for 28 months, if not longer.
The Navy secretary said Wednesday that he wants to get to “where it doesn’t take 28 months to do a maintenance cycle, where it comes down to 18 months, or what was originally planned.”
Spencer explained that Carnival is efficient in its maintenance work because it locks down its orders as much as 6 to 9 months in advance with few changes.
“We’re still working through, my god, it’s coming in for a deep maintenance, open the tank, god, the tank hasn’t been opened in six years, look at the monsters down there,” he said. “Is it frustrating? Yeah, it’s tremendously frustrating.”