WASHINGTON --- The Navy and Marine Corps have some readiness challenges, but both services are taking steps to address them, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer and a senior Government Accountability Office official told Senators today.
Spencer and John H. Pendleton, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, testified at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s sea power and readiness and management support subcommittees.
In sum, Pendleton said, the readiness issues were mostly related to a high operations tempo, budgetary shortfalls in previous years and an aging and shrinking fleet of ships, submarines and aircraft. His assessment, he told the senators, is based on numerous visits his team made to naval installations and to the fleet at sea.
Spencer detailed several corrective actions, including:
-- Using commercial best practices to increase efficiency and flow in maintenance facilities to return ships, subs and planes back to the fleet as quickly as possible.
-- Replacing aging systems by accelerated acquisitions for several key items, including the next-generation frigate, the MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueling system, Surface Navy Laser Weapons Systems and Standard Missile 6, Block 1B, while investing further in advanced tactical munitions including tactical Tomahawk missiles, long-range anti-ship missiles, rolling airframe missiles and heavyweight torpedoes.
-- Significantly accelerating ship acquisition, procuring 22 battle force ships over fiscal years 2017 and 2018, while decommissioning nine ships.
-- Increasing fleet readiness with $1.1 billion in additional funding executed for ship maintenance; an increase from $8.7 billion in fiscal 2017 to $9.8 billion in fiscal 2019, enabling ships to begin deployment training on time with improved materiel condition and modernized combat, communications and engineering systems.
-- Partnering shipyards with the private sector to improve efficiency and reduce the maintenance backlog and increasing productivity. For example, he said, the Navy has put multiple subs in private shipyards to alleviate the capacity problems in the Navy’s own shipyards. In the past three years, he added, the Navy has reduced lost days to maintenance in its own shipyards by 11 percent.
-- Accelerating efforts to hire and train new public shipyard workers, bringing the total workforce at its shipyards from 34,918 in fiscal 2017 to 36,696 in fiscal 2018, meeting the fiscal 2020 goal of 36,100 full-time-equivalent workers one year earlier than originally planned.
Improving Marine Corps Readiness
-- Making significant improvements and investments in Marine Corps aviation readiness. On average, Marine squadrons last year achieved readiness rates above service combat readiness standards for the first time in several years. Average flight hours per aircrew increased from 13.5 per month in fiscal 2016 to 17.9 in fiscal 2018, an increase of 32.6 percent.
-- Increasing Marine Corps modernization investments over the last three fiscal years, including 82 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets and 16 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters, as well as making significant investments in the protected mobility of Marines at sea and ashore through acquisition of 56 new amphibious combat vehicles.
-- Enhancing investments such as close combat lethality equipment for Marine infantry; High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems; advanced air defense systems; initial investments in a long-range, ground-based anti-ship missile system; and improved command and control systems aboard amphibious warships.
-- Continuing to work aggressively to ensure the highest possible Marine Corps ground equipment readiness. Over the last three years, average readiness for mission-essential ground equipment has increased to 92 percent in the active component operating forces and 95 percent in the Maritime Prepositioned Force.
Strengthening Alliances and Partnerships
In addition to all of these steps to improve readiness and modernization, Spencer said, the Navy and Marine Corps are strengthening alliances and attracting new partners through combined and joint exercises such as Rim of the Pacific, Trident Juncture, Malabar and Bold Alligator, and increasing opportunities for personnel and their allied counterparts to study together, serve together and operate as a single unit.
The other area the Navy and Marine Corps are striving to improve, Spencer told the panel, is business reform. He called it a top priority that needs to “rapidly achieve effectiveness and efficiency at the speed of relevance.”
For example, he said, the Navy has embraced lessons from commercial airline heavy-maintenance practices and their data-driven approach to improve naval aviation’s maintenance processes, with a goal, of achieving an 80 percent mission-capable rate in all fleet strike fighter squadrons by the end of this fiscal year.