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USN Mishaps, Mistakes Could Cost $1B

Feb. 2, 2013 - 02:30PM   |  
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS   |   Comments
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The past year has been a banner one for the U.S. Navy in at least one unhappy category — major mishaps. The number of major mishaps involving aircraft carriers, ships and submarines was higher than in recent years, and the unbudgeted repair bill is just one more factor squeezing fleet maintenance accounts in the middle of the service’s fiscal crisis.

“As a result of mishaps at sea — ships and submarines — I have an $850 million, unforecasted maintenance bill,” Adm. Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Fleet Forces command, said in a Jan. 28 interview.

“The chief of naval operations doesn’t give me any extra money to take care of that,” Gortney said. “What matters to me is mishaps cost lives, and I can’t replace a sailor’s life. And mishaps cost money to repair equipment. I can go buy new equipment, but it’s expensive.”

Gortney was referring to the repair costs for only four ships — the submarines Miami and Montpelier, cruiser San Jacinto and destroyer Porter. The combined, fleetwide repair bill for all mishaps isn’t known, but it will be significantly higher than Gortney’s number, perhaps closer to $1 billion.

Some of the repair costs are known, and others aren’t — subject, among other things, to ongoing damage assessments and contract negotiations.

The repair costs are being paid for from a variety of accounts, and they’re not all from the same budget year, but it’s just one more factor to add to the money squeeze on all the military services. Navy leaders have spent much of January warning of the negative impact of about $4.6 billion in operations and maintenance (O&M) cuts should sequestration strike after March 1 and another $4 billion O&M shortfall for the rest of fiscal 2013 should Congress fund the remainder of the year under a full-year continuing resolution.

The ship repair bill comes from a variety of mishaps and problems. The most spectacular — and expensive — was the arson fire on the submarine Miami in May. The Navy estimates the total bill to return the sub to service at around $450 million, plus or minus $50 million. A $94 million planning contract was awarded in August, and planners hope to spread the rest of the bill over several budget years to lessen the impact. Sequestration threatens $294 million of that in 2013, the service warns.

Another high-priced repair is needed for the destroyer Porter, damaged in August in a collision in the Arabian Gulf. More than $2 million was spent in a foreign shipyard for cosmetic fixes, but full repairs will cost at least another $125 million — the amount the Navy says is at risk should sequestration hit.

The submarine Montpelier, damaged in an October collision with the cruiser San Jacinto, needs at least $41 million in repairs — another figure at risk from sequestration — but the full extent of the work is not yet determined.

Repairs to San Jacinto already have topped $10 million, and may go higher, the Navy said.

Supplemental work needed for ships already in overhaul is also a factor. The Navy awarded at least $128 million in supplemental work packages in 2012 for the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, now in the later stages of a three-and-a-half-year refueling overhaul. Re-delivery of the ship already has been pushed back from last December to June of this year, and completion is threatened by a full-year continuing resolution, the Navy has said.

While not in league with the extra work needed for Roosevelt, “emergent” work on a number of other ships in overhaul is also adding to budget problems.

Other repairs needed in 2013 were for the amphibious assault ship Essex, from a May collision with the oiler Yukon; a rudder replacement for the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge that cost at least $10 million; the urgent flight deck resurfacing for the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, needed because the ship’s replacement, the carrier Nimitz, couldn’t make its deployment date in order to replace a defective reactor pump.

The repair bill for Nimitz remains, publicly, a mystery. Navy authorities could not provide a cost estimate for the repairs, which are taking place at the ship’s homeport of Everett, Wash. The carrier’s strike group deployed in January without it, and the Navy doesn’t expect Nimitz to deploy until sometime in the spring.

Eisenhower, in the meantime, is temporarily in Norfolk, Va., and will return in the early spring to the Middle East — missing a year-long drydocking overhaul that now needs to be rescheduled.

After all the problems last year, 2013 hasn’t gotten off to the best start. The submarine Jacksonville wrecked a periscope Jan. 10 when it started to surface under a merchant ship in the Arabian Gulf. A more serious incident began Jan. 17, when the minesweeper Guardian grounded on a reef in the Philippines. By Jan. 28, Navy officials decided to break up the ship on the scene rather than try to salvage and repair it.

While a special action by Congress was used to pay for the initial assessment work on Miami, the Navy is still looking for options to pay for the other repairs, and the overall impact on maintenance budgets is still unclear.

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Tony Lombardo contributed to this report.

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