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Navy reduces number of lost days due to repair delays

The USS Boise at at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2018.

ASHLEY COWAN/TNS

By DAVE RESS | The Daily Press | Published: November 10, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — The Navy’s efforts to boost planning, accelerate contract awards and move equipment sooner to shipyards have slashed the number of days ships are idled because of repair delays.

Lost days because of slower-than-expected repair fell from more than 7,000 in fiscal year 2019 about 1,100 for 2020, Naval Sea Systems Command spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke said.

“Two key factors: having required equipment on site and the beginning of an availability and a stronger planning process,” she said, using the Navy jargon for the time slotted for a repair project.

Because shipyards can’t start planning and positioning necessary parts and equipment for a repair project until a contract is in hand, the Navy is focusing on awarding contracts sooner.

Currently, Naval Sea Systems Command is awarding repair contracts an average of 92 days before work is slated to start, and the aim is to do so with a 120-day lead time, O’Rourke said.

Contract language is changing, too, O’Rourke said. The aim is to make it easier for shipyards to move quickly when the Navy wants to modernize a ship with new equipment, rather than simply repair what’s already there. The new language also speeds the process of contract revision if it turns out that a ship needs more work than original thought.

Inspection schedules are also changing, to focus on parts or systems of a ship where the Navy has found there’s a higher risk that additional work will be needed. The new Material Management Group focuses on stocking up equipment where shipping delays in the past have delayed repair work.

Overall, the aim of these changes is to avoid interruptions at shipyards work when additional work orders come in.

“We have seen an improvement in the contract process that allows us to do more upfront planning on submarine maintenance availabilities,” said Newport News Shipbuilding spokesman Duane Bourne.

He said the yard is working with the Navy to identify and acquire material needed for the overhaul work that’s a Newport News specialty,

“For example, we have been contracted on an early production period on USS Boise prior to the start of the engineered overhaul,” he said.

“The early production period provides specific opportunities ahead of the [overhaul] to identify and mitigate material conditions that could negatively impact [the overhaul’s] duration,” he said.

Among the key changes that have come with the Boise work, the Navy has shared its Submarine Maintenance Engineering, Planning and Procurement, as well as the document it uses in planning overhauls, including schedules that show by each skilled trade what resources are needed for a typical project

Boise’s overhaul had been scheduled at Norfolk Naval Shipyard with its return from service with the 6th fleet in 2015, but that yard had too much other work already on its plate. The submarine spent much the time since at a pier in Naval Station Norfolk.

The Navy decided Newport News should take on the Boise project and the boat came to the yard in 2018, where the yard was already working on the overhaul of two other submarines.

O’Rourke said the Navy is trying to help shipyards by bundling maintenance work, for instance by contracting for work on several ships on a schedule that sets overlaps that keep a workforce fully employed.

In addition, Naval Sea Systems Command is doing detailed data analysis, through its “Performance to Plan” that are already resulting in more accurate predictions of how long maintenance and modernization work actually involves, she said.

The command is making similar efforts to cut delays at its four public shipyards, which concentrate on maintaining submarines and carriers, O’Rourke said.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Government Accountability Office sharply criticized the substantial maintenance delays at the Navy’s shipyards.

It reported that 75% of planned maintenance periods were completed late for aircraft carriers and submarines in fiscal years 2015 to 2019, with an average delay of 113 days for carriers and 225 days for submarines.

In September, Naval Sea Systems Command relieved Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s commander, Capt. Kai Torkelson, of his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.

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