Navy Looking at Major Service Life Extensions to Facilitate Fleet Buildup

By Jon Harper

Photo: Navy

In order to reach its goal of a 355-ship fleet more quickly, the Navy is considering a wide-ranging effort to extend the service life of its surface ships, the commander of Naval Sea Systems Command said June 1.

Keeping existing platforms in the fleet longer would enable the Navy to beef up much faster than it would be able to if it relied solely on bringing new ships online, said Vice Adm. Tom Moore.

The current force stands at around 275 ships and submarines.

“One of the key components I think of getting out to the size of the fleet that we need is going to be looking at taking the DDGs [destroyers] and CGs [guided missile cruisers] and the amphibs we have today and actually extending the service life of the ships,” he said at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Most of them have a planned service life of 30 to 35 years, he noted.

“We’re taking a pretty close look at what would it take to get them out another five, another 10 years,” he said.

That shouldn’t be a problem from a technical perspective, Moore said.

“For a steel hull, if you do the maintenance you can get the service life out much longer. … There’s great opportunity for us to make the investments — a relatively small investment — to keep the ships around longer than we have to date,” he added.

The Navy is considering extending the life of littoral combat ships and some of the combat logistics force ships as well, he told reporters after his speech.

“If it’s a ship and it’s floating today we’re taking a look at what it would take to extend the service life,” he said.

Recent force structure assessments project that the Navy wouldn’t be able to reach 355 ships until around 2045, assuming current vessels’ longevity remains the same while new-builds are added to the fleet. But the Navy could move that timeline to the left 10 or 15 years with service life extensions, Moore said.

Additionally, new platforms should be designed to last longer, the NAVSEA chief asserted.

“As we look at the new frigate design or look at the future surface combatant … we should not design a ship with … a planned service life of 25 to 30 years,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense. We ought to go to planned service lives of 40-plus years for all of our ships.”

Keeping vessels in the fleet longer would be problematic if their weapon systems and other components became obsolete, he noted. That’s why the Navy needs to take advantage of open architectures and vertical launch systems, and ensure that new platforms have sufficient space, weight and power to incorporate new technologies and stay ahead of emerging threats, Moore said.

“That’s going to be part of our strategy moving forward,” he said. “The key is do the maintenance that you need to do and then add some baseline modernization capability.”

The Navy has been plagued by maintenance challenges in recent years, as operating tempos have remained high and platforms have been driven hard during the past 15 years of war.

“NAVSEA’s ability to get the ships and submarines out [of maintenance facilities] on time is critically important to resetting the fleet and getting … to the size of fleet we need,” Moore said.

Additional workers, better training and more investments in public and private shipyards are needed to increase productivity, he said.

When shipyards face capacity challenges, the Navy might take the work elsewhere, he suggested.

“We’ve got to take the entire industrial base into account here,” he said. “We do have capacity in other places when we don’t have capacity to do the work in our yards. And this … is something that we’re going to have to take a serious look at.”

The president’s fiscal year 2018 budget request has an “unprecedented” amount of money for readiness to the tune of about $9.7 billion for the Navy’s maintenance accounts, Moore noted.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us but I think the good news is, from the maintenance side of the house I’m very encouraged by where we’re headed,” he said. “We’ll start delivering ships and submarines on time [and] we’ll take a very serious look at how do we extend the expected service life of the ships that we have.

“When you combine those two things together and add that into the build strategy that we’re going to have, then we’ve got a viable path moving forward to get to 355, and [we] may in fact be able to get there sooner than we would otherwise get there by just building” new ships, he added.


Topics: Maritime Security, Navy News, Shipbuilding

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