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A Shipshape Fleet: An Interview with U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy

NAVSEA Commander Talks About What It Takes To Build, Maintain Navy’s Ships

Apr. 16, 2012 - 08:58AM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
U.S. Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class Cheyenne N. Shasky points out combat systems equipment to Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. McCoy visited the ship March 20 to see the progress of Theodore Roosevelt's overhaul.
U.S. Navy Electronics Technician 1st Class Cheyenne N. Shasky points out combat systems equipment to Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of Naval Sea Systems Command, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. McCoy visited the ship March 20 to see the progress of Theodore Roosevelt’s overhaul. (MC2 Christopher Church / U.S. Navy)
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Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) oversees the construction and maintenance of the ships of the U.S. Navy, from nuclear-powered submarines and aircraft carriers to minesweepers and patrol boats. Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy is in his fourth year as commander of the organization and has been asked to stay on an extra year.

Q. What are your top funding issues?

A. We’re trying to figure out the right mix of people, ships, programs, readiness, logistics, maintenance to respond to taskings by combatant commanders that continue to keep us at a very high operating tempo. We’re coming off 11 years of war, and more and more of our readiness accounts were bolstered by supplemental funding. In fiscal 2013, 20 percent of our maintenance funding for ships is in overseas contingency funding. And if that money is not provided by the Congress, then the majority of our surface ships are not going to get maintained in 2013.

Q. But with elimination of the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget, that’s supposed to slide into the regular budget.

A. Except somebody needs to agree that our top line goes up by that number. It’s easy to say “put that in your base,” and the base not get changed. Part of our challenge is how we take all that’s been in the OCO, fold it in the base and still live within the top-line constraints.

Q. Since the budget was submitted in February, the movement of four minesweepers and more coastal patrol boats to the 5th Fleet in Bahrain has been announced, along with a new Afloat Forward Staging Base ship. How will you pay for that maintenance?

A. Right now we’re working through that piece. There are some reprograms that’ll have to happen. We’re going through everything from maintenance, where the crews are going to live, what the pier services look like, host-nation support, who’s going to do the maintenance. None of that is hard or a showstopper, but there are some budget transfers we’re going to do to make that possible.

Q. The minesweepers and PCs are not big ships, but they’re not new, either.

A. In the last three weeks, I walked three ships — the carrier Theodore Roosevelt at Newport News, the PCs Tempest and Thunderbolt in Norfolk repair yards. And in the next five days, I will walk three more ships — the third one will be another PC at Norfolk. I’m spending a significant amount of my time on PCs. Essentially they’re at the end of their service life. We’re doing a whole strengthening modification. They’ve been ridden very tough, and we’ve got a significant amount of fundamental steel that has to be replaced. We’re doing that now before we send them forward.

It’s a similar thing with mine-sweepers. I’ve probably had three or four meetings on basic reliability issues for them. In a typical week, I am now spending a lot of time on PCs and minesweepers.

I’ve probably had three or four emails with myself, [Pacific Fleet commander] Adm. Cecil Haney and [Chief of Naval Operations] Adm. Jonathan Greenert on minesweeps in the last three weeks — making sure we’re all in sync, that NAVSEA is addressing the concerns about some of the things on board.

This is a direct reflection of Adm. Greenert’s focus on operating forward, and this organization is responding to that.

Q. You have dealt with significant first-of-class design and construction issues on several new ship types, including San Antonio-class LPD 17 amphibious ships and the littoral combat ships (LCS). In recent years, you also dealt with the need to rebuild N

A. We still have LCS to get out there and get deployed. [The aircraft carrier] Gerald R. Ford is a first of class, clearly. DDG 1000 destroyer, ship-to-shore connector, joint high speed vessel, all new classes.

But by and large, we’re still dealing with significant technical issues in terms of fleet introduction. Nothing insurmountable, but we need engineers. We’re still in that care and feeding of a lot of new ships.

We’ve plussed-up SupShip [the Supervisor of Shipbuilding] by about 20 percent. We were too low. Not only didn’t we have the right numbers but we didn’t have the right focus. Now we’ve got a common set of metrics with the shipbuilder and the Supervisor of Shipbuilding. They’re reacting now to low trip-wires, they’re comparing their data. The data generally match, which is good — independent looks by SupShip, independent looks by the shipbuilder.

On the LPD 17 class, I think we’ve come through those issues. We put LPD 22 through an additional trial prior to delivery, essentially to make sure the propulsion plant had much more of an endurance run. After that, we did some diesel tear-downs on both the main propulsion diesels and the main diesel generators and looked at bearings and things like that. It got the best [inspection] we’ve ever had on an LPD 17-class ship.

So, knock on wood, with all our processes and checks, I’m confident that those nagging issues from new construction are behind us.

Q. Dealing with LPD 17 took a major effort.

A. I’ve been in this job going on four years. Two months into this job, I had the worst breakfast of my life, with photographs laid out across my desk of lube oil pipes that separated on the first deployment of San Antonio.

That started the journey as we pulled that thread that lead to pipe issues on the [amphibious assault ship] Makin Island, the other LPDs, some of the destroyers down at [Ingalls Shipbuilding]. It led to the whole quality focus and really getting us and the shipbuilder on a common set of metrics — and then getting my government team and the supervisor’s team intently focused on compliance oversight.

I did three independent, large audits for about a week at a time, over about a two-year period. And every time we found a problem, went back seven or eight months later, made sure it was corrected, that all the trends were in the right direction. We’re going back again this fall on an audit to make sure we’re still on an upward trend on the entire yard, Avondale and Pascagoula, everything they do. I also audit my supervisors’ oversight of the contractor. We’ve put them through kind of a get-well program, and we’re seeing the results of that product and it’s very good.

Now, talking about people: I had about 250 engineers in 2005-2006. Now, we’ve got about 500 engineers just in our base engineering group today. And if you look at our warfare centers, we’ve plussed them up on the order of about 7 percent. So it’s an 18,000-member organization that went up about 7 percent in our technical capability. We took advantage of the support for growing the acquisition workforce.

Q. One problem with hiring new engineers is that of finding qualified U.S. citizens in the engineering schools. How have you dealt with that?

A. We established a program at the University of Michigan with a consortium of about 15 schools where we have scholarships for folks to come into the naval architecture pipeline. And we give them unclassified but real Navy projects to go work on. There are not a lot of U.S. citizens in this country taking naval architecture. So we’re trying to build a cadre of folks to come do this work.

We have a very strong relationship with historically black colleges and universities. Just about a hundred percent of their graduates are U.S. citizens. And we fund 46 NAVSEA scholars at historically black colleges and universities and bring them into our business. Compared to some of the bigger-name schools, they’re a great place to get U.S. citizens to do this business.

I think we’re OK now. We’ve looked at this several times in bottom-up reviews. And there is a limit to what the budget will bear.

Q. A major upcoming project is design work on the Flight III destroyer, incorporating the new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). Will increased power requirements mean much redesign from the existing Arleigh Burke Flight IIA?

A. Hybrid drive has great potential to not only propel the ship with the gas turbines secured, but also to feed back into the ship’s propulsion plant and provide 2.5 to 3 megawatts for radar power, directed-energy power, things like that. But we’re still trying to understand the electrical loads. We’re not through all of that.

My sense is in the end, it will look a lot like a DDG 51, fundamental hull.

Q. What changes are you making to how you do ship maintenance?

A. It’s probably the thing I’ve spent most of my time on.

I came to this job from being the chief engineer. I started asking if we were really serious about getting our surface ships to their expected service life. It’s a pretty darn long time — 35 years for a DDG 51, 40 years for a Flight IIA. In the past, we kept our combatants in service for about 25 years.

So what’s the plan? We were not doing it like we do submarines and aircraft carriers, where we have rigor, technical discipline behind class maintenance plans.

It’s taken several years to get the programming right, but we have it right now. In fiscal 2013 we have in the budget full funding for maintenance. I don’t know the last time we’ve done that.

Now when we bring a ship into dry dock, we’re doing 5,000 and 6,000 ultrasonic tests on hull thickness and structural member thickness, and inspecting all the tanks. We’re seeing the effect of deferred maintenance in the past, and we’re dealing with it.

But we have a plan in place now where I can look the chief of naval operations in the eye and say, “We know how to get our ships to the end of service life. Here’s the plan, here’s the cost for it, here’s what we have to fight for every year.”

And we’re regrowing the regional maintenance centers. I’ve got approval to take them up by about 1,100 people, military and civilian.

Q. An issue to deal with in the regional centers is that of local practices and a resistance to central authority.

A. You’re like my straight man. I put an energetic officer, Rear Adm. Dave Gale, in charge of Navy regional maintenance centers. Dave is now off on common training, common processes across all these centers. We had gotten into kind of a localized way of doing business, and it was costing us. Dave is now into training modules for quality assurance specialists and engineers, how they function on the waterfront. What’s mandatory work? When do we do it? How do we keep track of it? We’re bringing those together and trying to run it now as a national organization.

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