“We have selected post-command officers to liaise with the current ships’ commanding officers on emerging readiness issues,” Rowden said. “The feedback I'm getting from the ships' commanding officers is that our responsiveness to their needs has never been greater. The data shows that our ships, and by extension the carrier strike groups and amphibious readiness groups, are deploying with fewer material issues.”
Vice Adm. Rowden extolled the progress made in recent years buying down the maintenance backlog and resetting the Surface Force. He cited Board of Material Inspection and Survey data that show ships’ material inspection scores holding firm, despite continued heavy demand for surface forces.
“Over the past three years we have done a pretty good job of buying down the maintenance backlog and that has proceeded along three lines of effort: money, capacity and time,” Rowden said.
“Top line spending for the surface force continues to be healthy and is going to continue to grow through 2017 and 2018,” Rowden said. “In terms of capacity, I think the private yards have done an excellent job absorbing the added workload and scaling their workforce to meet the added demand. Lastly, we have worked to carve out additional time from ships operational cycles for dedicated maintenance or at a minimum to preserve the time that is notionally allotted to them.”
Rowden said he is also focused on continuing to improve issues in the littoral combat ship maintenance program. The Surface Force is making significant progress in implementing the recommendations from the Chief of Naval Operations Littoral Combat Ship 60-day Study. Rowden has appointed a LCS 60-Day Implementation Director, Capt. Tom Workman, who is responsible for continuing the progress on the LCS program. On the maintenance front, Rowden’s focus is on shifting the maintenance workload away from contractors and back to the ships’ Sailors.
“We are rethinking all aspects of how we operate and maintain the littoral combat ships,” Rowden said. “We have greatly simplified and streamlined the LCS concept of operations and I am confident we are getting the program headed in the right direction. When it comes to LCS maintenance, the key is to increase Sailor ownership and reduce the reliance upon contractors. I understand the LCS manning concept does not support shifting the entire maintenance workload to the crew. Still, I am committed to increasing the amount of planned maintenance to be performed by the LCS crew.”
This initiative, despite the small size of LCS crews, is set to be accomplished through fully embracing reliability-centered maintenance concepts, like conditioned-based maintenance, vice time-based maintenance.
“We need to move away from a purely time-based approach to the planned maintenance system,” Rowden said. “We should instead perform preventative maintenance based upon risk assessment of equipment failure modes. By applying a risk-based strategy underpinned by rigorous engineering analysis, we can assign preventative maintenance to specifically address risks to equipment as conditions indicate. Industry has already moved along to reliability-centered maintenance, our force has to implement these ideas too, and we have to do it soon.”
After highlighting areas where progress has been made, Rowden turned to addressing the challenges that remain, beginning with the ability of private yards to execute programmed maintenance, conduct drydock periods and extended maintenance availabilities.
“I'm worried that in the coming years we will not have the private yard capacity we need to handle all of our Force maintenance requirements,” Rowden said. “Private yards have done a good job of absorbing the work that has come their way during the Surface Force reset, but the prospect of a still greater maintenance load in the coming years, with more littoral combat ships coming online, and a potentially larger force overall, causes me concern. There is simply more work than the current workforce can accomplish. As a result, I have pushed to [increase the number] of yards that are familiar with and capable of performing Navy work.”
Despite the growing need for increased shipyard capacity, Rowden commended these engineers for the work they accomplish together with the ships’ crews and maintenance centers. Rowden made it clear that it will take continued close collaboration between NAVSEA, Naval Surface Forces, and industry to deliver a Surface Force capable of
performing its mission.
“I want to thank you for everything you do, everything you do for our team and the collaborative work we have going on,” said Rowden. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are delivering - day in and day out - and I’m making sure we're doing everything we can to give those men and women the ships that they need and the operational availabilities they need to go do the work that must be done for our country. We have a lot of people out there counting on us and we must deliver.”