The Navy has in recent years been plagued by a series of high-profile shipbuilding problems that have delayed construction, sent costs skyrocketing and impacted quality and performance across platforms.
Although the sea service has an oversight tool within major private shipbuilding yards that could help improve things, it remains hindered, according to a Government Accountability Office report released this week.
Co-located with shipyards, the Navy’s Supervisors of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair, or SUPSHIP, are the sea service’s on-site lead for overseeing quality assurance, according to GAO, a legislative branch watchdog agency.
But SUPSHIP offices face several challenges in their mission to improve shipbuilding results, the report found.
For starters, SUPSHIPs have limited input before contracts are awarded, and their expertise is not leveraged in the decision-making process, according to GAO.
Further, the Navy’s process for accepting ships from builders fails to include SUPSHIP’s expert input on ship quality and readiness, and SUPSHIP’s position within Naval Sea Systems Command “dilutes their ability to be a distinct, authoritative voice in decision-making for Navy shipbuilding programs,” according to the report.
Quality requirements vary across shipbuilding contracts, which also hinders SUPSHIP’s ability to provide quality oversight, GAO found.
The watchdog noted that Congress passed legislation late last year to stand up a deputy commander dedicated to the SUPSHIP mission, “which should help improve their authority and accountability.”
The problems of the last decade are well-known.
From propulsion systems aboard the Freedom-class littoral combat ship to the advanced weapons elevators aboard the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford to a special treatment not adhering to the hulls of Virginia-class fast attack submarines, the Navy regularly “accepts delivery of incomplete ships with significant uncorrected deficiencies,” the GAO report states.
In 2018 alone, the lead ships for six programs saw delays ranging from six months to six years, sending costs as high as 154 percent of the expected total in some cases.
Such problems have not only driven up prices and affected which ships are ready to get underway, such acquisition boondoggles have regularly sparked the ire of Congress and “raised questions about the Navy’s ability to effectively oversee shipbuilder performance throughout the construction of new ships.”
GAO has raised issues with the quality of ships accepted by the Navy for more than a decade, and prescriptions for how to fix these issues have at times gone ignored by the Navy and Defense Department.
“Although a certain number of deficiencies can be expected for something as complex as a Navy ship, we found that the Navy’s routine acceptance of ships with significant unresolved deficiencies and reliability problems consumed limited resources, diminished ship performance and added to sailors’ workloads,” the new report states.
Beefing up SUPSHIPs will not be a panacea for the various problems, it notes.
“Improving the SUPSHIPs’ involvement and accountability in supporting decision makers for Navy shipbuilding programs will not on its own eradicate the long-standing problems that these programs have had with cost, schedule and performance,” the report states. “However, improvements to maximize the SUPSHIPs’ value in shipbuilding oversight and better harness their direct knowledge of shipbuilding activities can contribute to the Navy making better-informed decisions when setting and attempting to fulfill expectations.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.