The admiral responsible for building and fixing Navy ships said Tuesday he has told the Navy leadership that they must spend more money now on maintenance if they are going to meet their goal of increasing the size of the fleet.
Although there is a lot of focus on future ships, "70 percent of the 313-ship Navy that is going to exist out in the future, we already own," said Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command. "So the critical question becomes does the Navy have the right systems and procedures to get ships to their full service life, or beyond," McCoy said.
McCoy could not say how much more he would have to spend on improved ship maintenance, but said he had ordered his command to cut costs everywhere it can "because we know maintenance is going to cost more."
Speaking to reporters at the Surface Navy Association conference in Crystal City, McCoy said the aggressive new program to improve ship maintenance is being developed for the FY12 budget and he is sure there will be a "plus up" in that account. But, he added that every dollar spent up front fixing ships would pay off down the line in longer service life and fewer surprise failures.
What McCoy is proposing is a reversal of policies in the 1990s of retiring ships early to avoid high upkeep cost, in the hope of freeing up funds to buy new ships. That did not work and the fleet shrank to 285, the lowest number since 1916.
McCoy said the Navy already has good programs for keeping submarines and aircraft carriers for their expected service life, so what he intends to focus on "is getting surface Navy maintenance right."
McCoy said NAVSEA conducted extensive ultrasound examinations on four type of ships last year to determine what components were showing the most wear. He intends to do the same for 10 more ships this year, which he said will be used to develop a schedule for repair.
The information also could guide design of future ships to avoid those weaknesses, he added.
In other conference events, Lockheed Martin Corp. officials disclosed what they are doing to cut the time and cost for building the second of its Littoral Combat Ships.
LCS manager Paul Lemmo said he was confident that the company could get the price of future ships below the $480 million cost cap per vessel set recently by Congress. But, Lemmo noted, Congress adjusted the original cost lid to exclude government-provided equipment and expenses and to allow for inflation, which makes it easier to meet the cap.
Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics Co. are awaiting the final ground rules for bidding on a winner-take-all competition to build the next 10 Littoral Combat Ships.