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Pearl Harbor shipyard is Navy's most backlogged

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: October 9, 2017

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — The Navy’s four public shipyards, including Pearl Harbor, whose oldest dry dock was built in 1919, are in poor condition, contributing to inefficiency that is robbing the Navy of ship and submarine time at sea, according to a government report.

“Navy data show that the cost of backlogged restoration and maintenance projects at the shipyards has grown by 41 percent over five years, to a Navy-estimated $4.86 billion, and it will take at least 19 years through fiscal year 2036 to clear,” the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in the recent report.

The report also shows that of the four yards, which include Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Washington state, Pearl Harbor had the lowest maintenance work timeliness.

Between 2000 and 2016, 14 percent of that work came out on time. Put another way, 49 of 57 maintenance jobs were delayed, according to GAO, resulting in 4,128 lost operational days for nuclear-powered submarines. Submarine maintenance comprises over 90 percent of Pearl Harbor’s work.

By comparison, Puget Sound had a 29 percent on-time rating, Portsmouth 34 percent and Norfolk 45 percent.

U.S. commanders, meanwhile, are clamoring for submarine time. Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command on Oahu, in April bemoaned that the Navy is reducing its attack submarine force to 42 from 52 in the coming years.

“From a joint commander perspective, I need more submarines,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee.

To be sure, Pearl Harbor shipyard, which also is an intermediate maintenance facility, is in a unique situation far out in the Pacific, where it is a strategic magnet for unscheduled ship and submarine repairs that throw a monkey wrench into timelines on larger depot- level submarine work. The data provided to GAO reflect the depot work.

Portsmouth, Pearl Harbor’s closest competitor, is not in a fleet concentration area and sees less emergency work.

The shipyard is Hawaii’s largest industrial employer, with a civilian workforce of nearly 5,200 and 543 Navy personnel.

“This GAO report sheds light on the challenges that have faced Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for quite some time,” U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an email. “While all of the Navy’s shipyards require serious improvements, the challenges facing Pearl Harbor Shipyard are unique.

“Pearl Harbor’s civilian workforce is highly skilled and specialized to meet the demands of maintaining the most advanced Navy in the world,” Gabbard said. “They have completed repair and maintenance projects under challenging and unique circumstances, such as sequestration, post-9/11 operational demands, the introduction of new Virginia-class submarines, budget uncertainties, and aging infrastructure.”

She added that the Pearl Harbor workforce “will continue to overcome the challenges before them, but must have the tools and personnel necessary to do so.”

Of the 49 maintenance jobs from 2000 to 2016 that were late, 22, or about 44 percent, were fewer than 16 days late, shipyard officials said. They said contributors to the delays included:

  • High submarine usage post-9/11 resulting in increased intermediate-level work that requires greater management attention. The work on deployed or deployable submarines “is the highest priority fleet work,” the shipyard said.
  • Introduction of the Virginia-class submarine while maintaining older Los Angeles-class subs. Four Virginia-class and about 16 Los Angeles subs are based at Pearl Harbor.
  • A changing workforce with significant hiring coupled with an increased attrition rate has reduced worker experience.
  • Antiquated and aging infrastructure, increased workload complexity and budget uncertainties.

Shipyard officials also acknowledged it needs to continue to work on its own performance. One problem for a past commander was the annual holiday week shipyard closure, which saw work slack off the week before and continue at a slow pace for a couple of weeks after.

“The Navy continuously works to improve shipyard efficiency,” officials from the Pearl Harbor facility said in an email. That includes the use of “learning centers” that provide mentoring and coaching relationships which “cultivate and preserve knowledge, foster a safe-to-learn environment, remove barriers and demonstrate the value of the contributions of all employees,” according to the shipyard.

The GAO report, “Naval shipyards: Actions needed to improve poor conditions that affect operations,” said that Pearl Harbor shipyard, with $838 million in funding for fiscal 2016, had $1.31 billion in facilities restoration and modernization backlogs. Its four dry docks were built in 1919, 1941, 1942 and 1943.

“Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard faces historic preservation challenges that have complicated its infrastructure planning and capital investment,” the GAO said. Eighty percent of its nearly 4 million square feet of facilities is designated as historic. Many facilities are outdated for modern needs.

Since 2008 the Navy has invested more than $500 million at the shipyard for improvements including the 2012 construction of Building 1916, which replaced shipping containers supporting shops around Dry Dock 1, officials said. A new submarine production and training facility was recently completed, and construction is about to begin on a project to relocate the shipyard’s welding school with welders and shipfitters.

Naval Sea Systems Command, to which the shipyard reports, initiated in fiscal 2017 a long-range shipyard infrastructure optimization plan for each yard, officials said.

“This plan will identify and define a vision to recapitalize and optimally configure shipyard infrastructure to improve productivity and effectiveness,” Pearl Harbor shipyard said.

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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In a 2014 file photo, the crew of the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Jefferson City (SSN 759) prepares to moor pierside at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled 22-month engineered overhaul maintenance period at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
STEVEN KHOR/U.S. NAVY

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