Government Accountibility Office issues warning on submarine readiness backlogs

Stephen Carlson
USS Colorado docked prior to commissioning in 2018. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Darryl/U.S. Navy
USS Colorado docked prior to commissioning in 2018. Photo by Chief Petty Officer Darryl/U.S. Navy

Nov. 20 (UPI) -- The Government Accountability Office released a report to the House Subcommittee on Readiness detailing how maintenance backlogs at the Navy's shipyards leave large numbers of nuclear attack submarines idle for long periods of time, even as the Navy continues to pay for the submarines support and faces shortfalls in deployable ships.

The report indicated that though the readiness of deployed submarines met strict standards in maintenance and training, delays during scheduled depot-level overhauls in submarines has created a feedback loop of ships stuck in port waiting in line.


In one case, the USS Boise was scheduled for depot-level maintenance at Norfolk Navy Shipyard in 2013, but lack of capacity led to the maintenance being delayed. In 2016 the submarines certification for normal operations expired, and it has remained idle in Norfolk ever since.

Congress ordered the Navy to issue a new contract for the overhaul of the Boise to be completed at a different shipyard, but work will not begin until Jan. 2019 after the submarine has already been docked for over 960 days.

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The GAO notes that of the 10,363 total days of lost time (in deployable submarines) since fiscal year 2008, 8,472 (82 percent) were due to depot maintenance delays.


The Navy spends over $9 billion a year to operate it's fleet of 51 nuclear attack submarines, including the Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia classes which are homeported in the continental U.S., Hawaii and Guam. Of those 11 are facing delays in depot-level maintenance due to lack of available shipyard capacity, with some of them facing idle time in dock waiting for a slot.

The GAO report says that the Navy has spent over $1.5 billion since 2008 on supporting idle submarines waiting for drydock overhauls, and that delays are inflicting serious harm on the Navy's deployable end strength in nuclear attack submarines.

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GAO says that the Navy's highly strict safety. certification and maintenance standards, known as SUBSAFE, means that submarines that have not met certain maintenance requirements are considered undeployable. The Navy instituted the regulations following the disastrous sinking of the USS Fletcher in 1963 and has not lost a submarine under SUBSAFE standards since.

GAO says the Navy has started to address skilled workforce shortages and is expanding existing facilities at it's shipyards, with a planned $21 billion in shipyard investment over the next 20 years. These changes would take several years to implement while submarines continue to face maintenance delays and extended idle time.


Meanwhile, some attack submarine maintenance is being shifted to private shipyards like Huntington Ingalls - Newport News and General Dynamics Electric Boat to help make up shortfalls, though the GAO calls the efforts sporadic and uncoordinated.

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GAO concluded that the Chief of Naval Operations should determine how much maintenance could be shifted to private shipyards before submarines faced loss of certifications and the subsequent lengthy times in dock awaiting overhauls.

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