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Navy faces big challenges keeping fleet in 'ship-shape,' reports say

Two reports from the Government Accountability Office highlight problems with surface ship repairs and modernization efforts at publicly-owned Naval shipyards.

WASHINGTON — A pair of new reports illustrate the many challenges the Navy faces in keeping its fleet "ship-shape."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) this week reported that overhauls on surface ships are hundreds of millions of dollars behind schedule.

And the GAO had more bad news when it comes to the Naval shipyards, which do repairs on nuclear-powered carriers and submarines.

That report said the aging yards are in poor condition and modernization efforts are billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

In the first report, the GAO said the Navy reported a $1.7 billion backlog of deferred maintenance on just its surface ships. Of that, $1.2 billion is for vessels the Navy proposed decommissioning early—in part because of their maintenance costs.

In the second report, the GAO found poor conditions at the nation's four publicly-owned Naval shipyards, resulting in reduced performance, increased costs, and impeding of military readiness.

The report said the backlog of facility restoration and modernization projects intended to restore, renovate, or replace buildings or components has increased by more than $1.6 billion in the last five years. 

The GAO told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that it is an urgent problem.

"Ford Class carriers and expanded payload Virginia Class submarines will need drydock capacity that the Navy currently does not have," said Diana Maurer, the GAO director of defense capabilities and management. "It remains to be seen how the Navy will specifically address these problems, as proposed actions are complex and are many years away from being fully implemented."

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) vowed to help.

"There's no doubt that these are necessary investments," he said. "The condition of our shipyards do require a lot of resources and support. We have to do our part here in Congress."

To save money, the Navy has proposed retiring 24 ships over the next five years, including the entire guided-missile cruiser fleet.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia, 1st District) has called the plan "wholly inadequate" and "grossly irresponsible."

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