Petty Officer 2nd Class Kristina Young / U.S. Navy

How to Grow the Military Without Buying More Ships, Planes, Tanks

Pentagon leaders want to shorten the time spent on overhauls, keeping the weapons more available to fight.

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA — At any given time, up to one-third of the haze-gray destroyers, cruisers, and amphibious ships based here are under significant repair.

Some have white party tents erected on their decks, others are encased in scaffolding, and a few are lifted completely out of the water on massive drydocks — all signals that overhauls are under way. Ships can remain like this, unable to deploy, anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the scale of the maintenance.

“When you have assets like that tied up, it’s hard on the Navy,” Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said earlier this month after visiting the shipyard, nestled in San Diego Bay.

That’s why Shanahan — a former Boeing executive who managed the firm’s massive supply chain — is looking for ways to shorten the repair time for not just ships, but planes and combat vehicles too.

“The ideal behind having less time in maintenance is that in effect you have a larger Navy because there’s more ships at sea,” he said. “The whole thing is around speed. How do we get speed?”

About one-quarter of the Navy’s surface ships are currently going through extended maintenance periods that last anywhere from six months to a year. During that period, major components, like engines, are overhauled. Even ships that aren’t in this extended period of downtime undergo about three to four weeks of maintenance quarterly while in port.

Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are sidelined for years halfway through their expected service lives for refueling. The USS George Washington, commissioned in 1992, began a four-year mid-life maintenance last year.

Getting these ships, planes, and combat vehicles out of overhaul faster frees them up for training and deployments, thus boosting readiness and lethality, the top priority for Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“The instability — in terms of the availability of ships and scheduling — is probably one of the more complicated aspects of this,” Shanahan said. “If you could get something that’s smooth, in terms of backlog and schedule for the suppliers and contractors, they’re going to be a lot more productive.”

How productive?

“There’s probably [many] things that if we fixed, you could get a 25-percent improvement in throughput,” Shanahan said.

This is not the first time defense leaders have looked to improve ship maintenance times. In 2002, the Navy launched a project called SHIPMAIN, which looked to inject efficiency in the repairs. After four years during which Navy officials said the project saved nearly $600 million, SHIPMAIN was folded into the service’s wider ship maintenance efforts.

Aircraft are a different story. It’s been widely reported how maintenance issues have grounded nearly two-thirds of the Navy’s strike fighters. The military will use an new, computer-based database to manage logistics, maintenance and the supply chain of its new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. But there have been numerous problems bringing the system online.

“Instead of being sub-optimized, how do we want to run some of these areas like an airline because the availability is greater,” Shanahan said of aviation maintenance, a topic he discussed with the commander of Naval Air Forces while in San Diego. “What are the things that we can steal shamelessly that lend themselves to solving some of these systemic problems.”

The shipyard visit was a rare trip for Shanahan, who routinely puts in a six-day work week at the Pentagon, and it underlines his devotion to the idea of increased availability by reducing maintenance time. (He also visited Air Force Space Command on the same trip.) He’d previously only taken two official trips since becoming the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian in July, but he was filling in for Mattis both of those times.

When he was nominated for the Pentagon post last year, the Seattle Times wrote that while at Boeing, Shanahan “was credited with the smooth increases of production at Boeing’s major final assembly sites” in Washington State and South Carolina.

Now he hopes to take some of those supply chain management and manufacturing lessons and apply them to maintenance across the military.

“Shipbuilding is a little bit different than airplane building, than is different than cars, but there are a lot of these practices that lend themselves to the other business,” he said after the visit to San Diego.

A key to making it all work is having the budget to pay for the maintenance work. The outlook there is much better as Congress recently approved a steep increase in defense spending over the next two years.

“If it takes less time to go through maintenance, it costs less,” Shanahan said. “If it costs less, there’s more ships available and the shipyard can put more ships through there, everybody’s a winner.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.