Defense Infrastructure:

Ability of Ship Maintenance Industrial Base to Support a Nuclear Aircraft Carrier at Naval Station Mayport

GAO-11-388R: Published: Mar 29, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2011.

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Since established as a naval base in December 1942, Naval Station Mayport, Florida, as grown to become the third largest naval fleet concentration area in the United States and the second largest on the East Coast. During this time, the base has served as the home port for multiple types of Navy surface ships--reaching a peak of over 30 ships including two conventional carriers in 1987. The most recent conventionally powered carrier to be homeported there--the USS John F. Kennedy--was decommissioned in 2007. Prior to the USS John F. Kennedy's retirement, the Department of Defense's (DOD) 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review called for the Navy to provide more warfighting assets more quickly to multiple locations, and, to meet this requirement, the Navy made a preliminary decision to homeport additional surface ships at Mayport. The Navy subsequently prepared an environmental impact statement to evaluate a broad range of strategic home port and dispersal options for Atlantic Fleet surface ships in Mayport and on January 14, 2009, issued its decision to pursue an option that would include the first-time homeporting of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Mayport. The Navy's decision was reviewed as part of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which in its report supported the Navy's decision to homeport a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Mayport, indicating that homeporting an East Coast carrier in Mayport would contribute to mitigating the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster occurring in Norfolk, Virginia, where currently all of the nuclear-powered aircraft carriers on the East Coast are homeported. In House Report 111-491, accompanying a proposed bill for the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5136), the House Committee on Armed Services directed the Secretary of the Navy to report by December 15, 2010, to the congressional defense committees on (1) the ability of the private ship maintenance industrial base in northeast Florida to support nuclear-powered aircraft carrier maintenance requirements; (2) the likely costs to the Navy that could result from establishing such maintenance capabilities within the local industrial base; and (3) the impacts on cost and workforce scheduling that could result if the Navy must provide the maintenance workforce from another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier home-port location. The Navy issued its report to the congressional defense committees on December 29, 2010.5 In the same House report, the committee also directed GAO to assess and report on the Secretary of the Navy's report within 90 days of receiving the Navy's report and to conduct an assessment of aspects of the local ship maintenance industrial base and determine to what extent the homeporting of a carrier at Mayport would affect carrier maintenance costs. In response to the House report, our objectives were to determine to what extent (1) the private ship repair firms in northeast Florida can meet the maintenance requirements of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and (2) the Navy's December 2010 report addresses the provisions directed by House Report 111-491. The House report also directed us to assess how the construction of maintenance facilities for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport will affect maintenance costs for the carrier, including recurring and nonrecurring costs over a 10-year budget window.

Private ship repair firms in northeast Florida will likely be able to support the maintenance requirements of a nuclear aircraft carrier if one is homeported at Naval Station Mayport in 2019 as the Navy plans. Of the 20 surface ships currently homeported at Mayport, the Navy plans to decommission 12 guided-missile frigates between 2011 and 2015. According to the Navy, the total depot maintenance workload at Mayport has averaged 225,000 work days per year over the last several years. The Navy estimates that the decommissioning of the frigates will reduce this average workload by about 135,200 work days after all of the frigates have been decommissioned in 2015--a potential decrease of 60 percent if no other work is allocated to Mayport. According to private ship repair firm representatives, this decrease in workload will likely result in the loss of some jobs for ship repair firms in northeast Florida, but the Navy expects the private ship repair firms to be able to support a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in 2019 for five key reasons. (1) The Navy has implemented mitigation measures to offset the decreased workload, such as transferring the maintenance of three barges from Norfolk Naval Shipyard to Mayport. (2) The northeast Florida area is home to three master ship repair firms certified by the Navy to have the capabilities and capacities to support the maintenance requirements of U.S. Navy surface ships, including aircraft carriers. (3) The tasks required of the private ship repair firms to support a nuclear carrier are the same as those performed on conventional carriers in the past and the other types of ships currently homeported at Mayport. (4) Private ship repair firms in northeast Florida have previously demonstrated the ability to support carrier maintenance. (5) Finally, according to the Navy, the contracting strategy used with the private ship repair firms provides the firms with early visibility into the Navy's maintenance planning, thus allowing the firms to appropriately size their workforces in anticipation of future workload. We found that the Navy could have provided clearer and more complete responses in its December 2010 report on the ability of private ship repair firms in northeast Florida to support nuclear-powered aircraft carrier maintenance requirements at Naval Station Mayport by including additional information that could help provide Congress with a better understanding of its conclusions regarding the sufficiency of the capabilities and capacities of ship repair firms near or around Naval Station Mayport to support the maintenance requirements of a nuclearpowered aircraft carrier. First, regarding the ability of the private ship repair firms to support a carrier, the Navy discussed the capabilities of the various firms, but the report did not fully provide information on the maintenance requirements of a nuclearpowered carrier and how that work would be allocated to the private sector. Second, regarding the costs to establish additional ship repair maintenance capabilities in northeast Florida, the Navy's report discussed the types of maintenance work performed by the various ship repair firms and concluded that no additional costs would be incurred as the various firms already have the required capabilities, however, the report does not provide the full context to the reader to support the report's conclusion. Third, regarding impacts on costs and workforce scheduling, the Navy reported on the maintenance workload associated with a nuclear aircraft carrier and the potential cost to the Navy if the public shipyards needed to perform 10 percent more of the work than anticipated, but the report did not fully discuss the Navy's workforce-shaping procedures and the One Shipyard concept, which helps ensure that the required number of workers and skill sets are available when needed to meet current and planned maintenance requirements. We are not making any recommendations in this correspondence.

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