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WATCH: Courtney questions Navy officials on submarine maintenance challenges

May 26, 2016
Video

Today, during a hearing on Navy readiness challenges, Congressman Joe Courtney, Ranking Member of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, questions Navy officials on challenges in meeting submarine readiness and maintenance needs. In particular, he cited the delays in repairing two submarines - the USS Albany and USS Boise - and the impact they have on meeting the operational requirements of the submarine force. Watch his exchange here, and read an informal transcript below.

COURTNEY:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And again, just to go back over a couple of items that came up in the first round.

Captain McRae, I wanted to just kind of drill down a little bit deeper on your point about the Albany delay and, you know, what that means in terms of the submarine fleet long term.

Again, we spend a lot of time in the committee looking at the TILE (ph) charts in terms of the size of the fleet throughout the '20s and '30s, and obviously we're going to have this bathtub (ph) that we're doing our best to try and mitigate with some of the shipbuilding, you know, provisions in the defense bill this year.

But your point was is that, you know, having an extra 15 months in availability, it's not like, you know, having your car in the garage for 15 months with a, you know, tarp over it. But, you know, you know, the year doesn't matter so much in that context, you know, because it's the mileage that -- you're saving on the mileage.

But with a submarine, you don't really save on the mileage because of just the whole life, as you mentioned. I was wondering if you could just sort of explain that a little bit more. So again, the record is clear about the fact that this is just pure wasted time.


MCRAE:

Yes, sir. So, as you said, you know, the whole lives of our submarines are carefully managed by the submarine force and the Naval Sea Systems Command. And we have varying intervals -- op cycle, operational cycle intervals, and operating intervals that we manage to ensure that those lives -- that they make it effectively to the end of life that is designed. And as we have with some of our submarines, that we are even capable of potentially extending those lives, depending on what we see in our certifications as they continue through their life cycle.

Maintenance periods, major maintenance periods we use to re-set those op intervals and op cycles. And again, it's just something -- those come with -- whether it be maintenance that is done on the submarines themselves, or if it's just inspections and certifications that occur to certify that the material is holding up as expected; we don't find anything surprising such as cracks or improper welds or those types of things; and that the submarine is -- is doing the things we need it to do and meeting its end-of-life.

So we'll re-set those periodically. The major depot avails are obviously part of the life cycle maintenance. And those come at specific times in order to re-set those -- those intervals. It's all very finely tuned, kind of like gears in the turbine, if you will.

So, as the submarine maintenance period is delayed and that cycle gets off, we start impacting not only the life cycle for that particular submarine, but we also impact the life cycle of the other submarines around it. So for example, USS Boise is scheduled, because of her operating cycle and operating interval, to enter the shipyard this past October -- because of delays to the Albany -- she's lined up to go into the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Because of delays on Albany, we have been extending Boise's operational time in three-month increments, just as we've been doing with Albany and trying to get her out of the shipyard and back to the fleet. As we do that, we run up against these op cycle and op interval limits to the point where now we are no longer capable of operating Boise at sea after this summer.

So any delays after that in her start date will be days that Boise will sit tied up to the pier, not in depot maintenance availability as she should be, but frankly just waiting on the depot maintenance to begin. And so it's almost double the loss days if you think of it in that perspective.

We do everything we can locally to maximize the use of that time. We have been tasked to judiciously use all the resources provided to us. And we take that charge very seriously.

And so, for example, when Albany was delayed, we pulled in maintenance that we could get done outside of the overhaul package into that period before she went into overhaul so that that would just help with executing the timeline of the depot maintenance and hopefully get her out on time. We'll do the same thing with Boise while she sits tied to the pier, waiting on the overhaul to start.

But clearly, it's a significant impact and it's not as simple as saying, you know, well, I've lost one submarine day because one submarine is extended in the drydock and in the shipyard. It's actually much more than that.


COURTNEY:

Right. Thank you.

And so, again, it's just -- that 15-month delay is just, again, it's just lost time for, you know, a vessel that cost roughly about $800 million or $900 million to build back in the day, and they're now about $2 billion a pop these days. I mean, this is -- I mean, this is a really big cost to the country and to the taxpayer.


MCRAE:

Yes, sir. And the other thing that I would mention is the operational aspect of that. Clearly, it affects the operations of the Albany and the people, as we talked about before. But again, now, the duties and requirements leveraged on the submarine force for operational time, which is everything from forward deployments to local operations, to sub-on-sub certifications and training that we do to hone our warfighting skills.

All of those things now have to be levied on the other submarines that are available. So it crunches their schedules such that then they lose out on what we call commanding officer's discretionary time -- the amount of time a commanding officer has to take his ship and his crew to sea and improve them and train them and get them up to the standards that he needs them to be.

You know, we constantly execute, assess and improve. And the assessment part is important. But the improvement part, the time to go to sea and fix your ship, if you will, raise the standards on board, that's even more important. And when we crunch the schedules, many times that's what we see being compressed is that commanding officer's discretionary time.

So we as a force do everything we can to defend it. But I will tell you, we are not 100 percent successful and we many times can't achieve the levels of commanding officer's discretionary time that we would prefer.


COURTNEY:

Great. Thank you, Captain. And I was going to ask Captain Odenthal some questions, but I think my friend to the left here is going to take over that. So thank you again for being here today. I know your testimony is important to us.

And with that, I'll yield back.