GAO: Navy’s aging supply ships could stymie combat ops

A dock worker welds a platform aboard the Blue Ridge-class command and control ship USS Mount Whitney at Viktor Lenac shipyard in Rijeka, Croatia, Aug. 16, 2017.


By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 1, 2017

The Navy may not be able to support its warships in combat if it doesn’t upgrade a fleet of aging supply ships that are losing their ability to quickly provide food, fuel and equipment, a government watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

The Navy must improve the Military Sealift Command’s support ships to accommodate its expanding fleet, which covers ever-widening distances, the Government Accountability Office said. Otherwise, vital supplies might not reach the warships during combat.

“Over 90 percent of the equipment, personnel, fuel and other cargo necessary to sustain a major conflict is moved by sealift ships, but the readiness of the aging surge sealift fleet is trending downward,” the GAO said.

The sealift fleet includes oilers, tankers and cargo ships, many of which are 50 years old.

In the report, Navy officials agreed with the agency’s recommendations on expanding and upgrading sealift capabilities.

They said they are drafting a long-term plan that includes how much they must spend to expand and upgrade the fleet to keep in line with the Navy’s future shipbuilding.

The Navy has given little thought to how support ships will accommodate warships spread out in a broader area, the GAO said. Support vessels traditionally were part of a strike group that supplied the warships as needed, but they increasingly sail longer distances to meet the ships at sea.

The more challenging logistics will demand that Navy leaders think in new ways, the report said.

The agency found in the past five years that the supply ships’ equipment is breaking down more often and that maintenance periods are running longer than planned. That leads to fewer ships available to provide refueling and supplies.

The USS Mount Whitney, a 47-year-old MSC command ship, returned to its home port of Gaeta, Italy, last week after being dry-docked for 10 months in a shipyard in Rijeka, Croatia.

About $45 million worth of work was done on the Mount Whitney’s mechanical, electrical and computer systems as well as the living quarters, hull and propellers.

Navy officials couldn’t say whether the amount of time and work was unusual for a ship this size or whether its age was a factor.

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The Blue Ridge-class amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney returns to its forward-deployed port in Gaeta, Italy, Oct. 27, 2017.