WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy has filled in the details for the first five years of its 20-year Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program and begun executing some early steps, but a congressional subcommittee said the service needs to commit more money to its aging repair infrastructure.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel, told joint service officials Thursday that if shipyards and repair depots are as critical to readiness as officials say, then the services should better prioritize them in their budgets.
“Show me the money,” he repeatedly said, scolding the military for talking about the importance of improving and modernizing these facilities but then asking for that money not within the budget but in unfunded priorities lists. Garamendi called the move a “resource play” to try to get more money from lawmakers.
“This sends the message that the facility and the equipment optimization is optional,” he said. “But we keep hearing that it is essential. It cannot be both absolutely necessary and essential and then not prioritized on the funding programs.”
The Navy asked for $830 million in its fiscal 2022 budget, according to testimony to the subcommittee, but it also sought $225 million in its unfunded priorities list for FY22 to get started on the first dry dock project under SIOP.
Garamendi told the services they each must, within the next three months, submit details of the first five years of their multi-year upgrade plans; a list of first steps that would need to be taken, such as environmental impact studies and preliminary engineering assessments; and approximate costs and timelines.
“We intend to be drilling down,” he said. Going into the FY23 budget cycle in a couple months, “we’ll find out what is it that you proposed and then we’ll find out what the [secretary of defense] has actually approved. And if those two do not match up to the expectations of the five-year program that you’ll develop for us, [service leadership] will hear from us. This committee is not messing around.”
Jay Stefany, the Navy’s acting acquisition chief, said in his testimony to the subcommittee the Navy on Sept. 30 submitted its five-year plan to Congress.
“The Department [of the Navy] is aggressively implementing lessons learned from recently awarded projects for upcoming efforts to include acquisition, design, cost estimation, organizational, and process changes,” he said. “The Department has also re-assessed construction and procurement timelines to effectively implement SIOP activities, while executing ongoing and planned submarine and aircraft carrier maintenance availabilities.”
Stefany said the Navy created its SIOP plan in 2018 with three goals: modernizing aging facilities and equipment, upgrading facilities to support new and larger platforms such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and the Ford-class aircraft carrier, and optimizing workflow to create better throughput while repairing current platforms.
The 20-year, $25-billion program includes $8 billion to replace old dry docks — the Navy hasn’t built a new dry dock in 70 years, Stefany said — $3 billion for new tooling and $14 billion for infrastructure, Garamendi said in the hearing.
Stefany in his written remarks noted the “average age of the naval shipyard facilities and related infrastructure is 61 years while the average dry dock age is approaching 100 years.”
“With 39 percent of shipyard equipment beyond its service life ... we need to accelerate investment in upgrades and improvements that increase productivity and efficiency,” he added.
During the hearing, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) mentioned his state’s namesake submarine, which struck an undisclosed object undersea in the Indo-Pacific region on Oct. 2. The Connecticut, a sophisticated Seawolf-class submarine, has been laid up in port in Guam since, awaiting repairs from a submarine tender, since there are no dry docks anymore in Guam and the nearest public shipyard is in Hawaii.
“The attack subs have always been the poor cousin in the public shipyards in terms of getting priority, but particularly the Seawolf class submarine is extremely valuable in terms of the mission out in that part of the world,” Courtney said.
He asked how repairing it would affect the already over-burdened public naval shipyards, which have often prioritized ballistic missile subs and aircraft carriers over attack submarines in the past.
“If we end up doing work in one of the public shipyards, that would certainly cause perturbations in all the other work in the shipyards,” Stefany acknowledged.
“We’ve been talking infrastructure for a while, as a Navy and the Marine Corps. But why the urgency is picked up now, and the commitment, I think, is there now, is because we realize these shipyards particularly, but the other depots, are necessary,” Stefany said. “Not optional, but they are necessary to support our forces in our maritime strategy going forward.”
“We need to optimize them to create a surge space, surge ability. ... We have some ability to surge by going to the private sector [for some submarine maintenance availabilities], but those yards are also building new ships,” he added. “We need to create the surge ability for the unexpected as part of this, and that’s why optimization is just as important to me as the upgrades of the yards.”
He said the Navy is treating SIOP as a major acquisition effort: by Dec. 1, a flag officer will oversee it as a program executive officer, with a program office already in place that includes construction and acquisition personnel from Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Garamendi said during the hearing the Navy’s SIOP plan is the farthest along of any of the services’ depot modernization efforts. Also in the Department of the Navy is an aviation depot modernization effort and a Marine Corps logistics base modernization plan.
A naval aviation “Infrastructure Master Plan will identify strategic investments that provide the Navy’s organic aviation depots the capability and capacity to sustain and modernize naval aviation’s aircraft, engines, components, and support equipment through MILCON (military construction), recapitalization, and procurement of new technologies within the Fleet Readiness Centers (FRC). Infrastructure associated with MILCON will be informed by similar planning methods and lessons learned from the SIOP effort,” Stefany wrote in his testimony.
After making process improvements in aviation maintenance to achieve a mandated 80-percent mission capable rate, the Navy is now in the second phase of its aviation modernization plan, focusing on optimization efforts at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla.; and NAS North Island, Calif.
“Phase 2 will incorporate identified investments into individual depots and an integrated enterprise master plan,” according to the testimony. “Phase 3 encompasses the execution and implementation of current and future identified investments for procurement of advanced industrial equipment technology, renovation and modernization of facilities, and military construction.”
For Marine Corps ground vehicles and weapons, the Marine Corps Organic Industrial Base 2045 Facilities Modernization Plan has been submitted to Congress, with Marine leadership estimating this will cost $1.9 billion over 25 years.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.