GAO Report on Increase in Cost of U.S. Navy Ship Operations

The following is the Jan. 31, 2023, Government Accountability Report, Weapon System Sustainment Navy Ship Usage Has Decreased as Challenges and Costs Have Increased. From the report Sustainment Challenges Have Worsened across the Ship Classes Reviewed GAO reviewed key sustainment metrics for 10 ship classes and found that from fiscal years 2011 through 2021, these […]

The following is the Jan. 31, 2023, Government Accountability Report, Weapon System Sustainment Navy Ship Usage Has Decreased as Challenges and Costs Have Increased.

From the report

Sustainment Challenges Have Worsened across the Ship Classes Reviewed

GAO reviewed key sustainment metrics for 10 ship classes and found that from fiscal years 2011 through 2021, these classes faced persistent and worsening sustainment challenges. Specifically, the number of maintenance cannibalizations (working parts removed and reused elsewhere due to parts shortages), casualty reports (reports of events that impair ships’ ability to do a primary mission), and days of maintenance delay (days beyond the scheduled end date for depot maintenance) have each increased, while steaming hours (the number of hours a ship is generally in an operating or training status) have decreased. Additionally, the Navy is not fully or accurately tracking other metrics—operational availability and materiel availability—that the Department of Defense and the Navy have determined are key to assessing ship effectiveness despite a prior GAO recommendation to do so.

Changes in Sustainment Metrics per Ship across Selected Navy Ship Classes, Fiscal Years 2011 through 2021

(a)Cannibalization data for fiscal years 2011 through 2014 is incomplete. Therefore, cannibalization trends begin fiscal year 2015. (b) The first America class amphibious assault ship was commissioned in 2014, so readiness trends for this class reflect fiscal years 2015 through 2021.

Operating and Support (O&S) and Steaming Hour Costs Have Increased

Total O&S costs increased by about $2.5 billion from fiscal years 2011 and 2020 for the 10 ship classes GAO examined, including a $1.2 billion increase in maintenance costs. The Navy also added about 33 ships to these classes. Collectively, the number of steaming hours for the ships declined over the timeframe.

GAO Analysis of Navy Data

GAO found the average O&S cost per steaming hour—used to measure the cost to provide operational steaming hours—across the 10 ship classes increased from fiscal year 2011 to 2020. Specifically, most ship classes we reviewed experienced an increase in O&S cost per steaming hour across the timeframe.

Operating and Support Costs, by Ship Class, Fiscal Year 2020 and the Ship Class’ Trend in Average Cost per Steaming Hour, Fiscal Years 2011 and 2020

The increase in O&S cost per steaming hour occurred for several reasons. First, a decrease in steaming hours contributed to the increase in cost per steaming hour. Second, GAO’s prior work shows that a number of other challenges have increased sustainment costs for ships, such as maintenance delays that have resulted in some ships deferring maintenance. Over time this situation has resulted in worsening ship conditions and increased costs to repair and sustain ships. GAO has made dozens of recommendations, which the Navy has generally concurred with, to improve the Navy’s sustainment of its ships. While taking actions, the Navy has not fully implemented many of GAO’s recommendations, including that the Navy

  • establishes performance goals and measures to better manage deferred depot maintenance backlog;
  • better track data on and address challenges with executing intermediate maintenance periods; and
  • take steps to ensure that new ships are reliable and can be sustained as planned when procured.

Why This Matters

The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today’s military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. Costs to operate and sustain the 151 Navy ships included in this review totaled approximately $17 billion in fiscal year 2020. GAO’s past work has shown that the Navy has faced significant readiness challenges over the last decade. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in December 2022. GAO removed specific details on steaming hours that DOD deemed sensitive.

How the GAO Did This Study

GAO initiated this work due to: 1) continuing interest in the operational availability and O&S costs for major weapon systems; and 2) as part of our response to a provision in section 802 of the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 for us to report on sustainment reviews conducted by the military services with a specific focus on O&S cost growth. GAO reviewed documentation and interviewed program office officials to identify reasons for the trends in key sustainment rates and O&S costs as well as any challenges in sustaining the selected ship classes.

Download the document here.

Navy Destroyer Modernization Program Could Cost $17B, Take Up to 2 Years Per Hull

ARLINGTON, Va. – The plan to upgrade the Navy’s fleet of Flight IIA Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers with new radars and electronic warfare suites is estimated to cost about $17 billion and take anywhere from a year and a half to two years to upgrade each warship, USNI News has learned. The service has been […]

USS Pinckney (DDG-91) undocks SEWIP Block 3/SLQ-32(V)7 structures under either bridge wing on Aug 26, 2022. Screengrab of a General Dynamics NASSCO Video

ARLINGTON, Va. – The plan to upgrade the Navy’s fleet of Flight IIA Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyers with new radars and electronic warfare suites is estimated to cost about $17 billion and take anywhere from a year and a half to two years to upgrade each warship, USNI News has learned.

The service has been working for the last several years to develop a plan to back fit about 20 Flight IIAs with the AN/SLQ-32(V)7 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block 3, the AN/SPY-6 air and missile defense radar and the Baseline 10 version of the Aegis Combat System.

The DDG MOD 2.0 effort is starting with the first installation of SEWIP aboard USS Pinckney (DDG-91) during a $121 million modernization period currently underway at General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, Calif.

“We’re kind of in a little bit of a crawl, walk, run process,” commander of Naval Sea Systems Command Vice Adm. Bill Galinis told USNI News earlier this month.
“We’re installing SEWIP on Pinckney in San Diego right now and that effort is going very well.”

US Navy Graphic

Service officials have told industry that the cost estimation to do the installations aboard 20 ships is about $17 billion, three sources familiar with the conversations told USNI News.

A Navy official confirmed to USNI News that the estimated time to install all three major systems – the Raytheon-built radar, Northrop Grumman’s SEWIP Block 3 and Lockheed Martin’s Baseline 10 combat system, along with other modernizations – could run from 18 to 24 months.

SEWIP will be a major upgrade to the surface Navy’s electronic attack arsenal and service has said it’s key to defeating incoming attacks on surface ships.

“SEWIP Block 3 will include improvements for the electronic attack by providing integrated countermeasures against radio frequency-guided threats and extending frequency range coverage,” the Navy said in a statement 2015 after issuing a $267 million award to Northrop Grumman.

The Navy has been incrementally improving the electronic warfare systems on its destroyers over the 1970s era AN/SLQ-32 “Slick 32s,” with Block I awards to General Dynamics and Block II to Lockheed Martin.

SEWIP will be housed in a sponson between Pinckney’s existing SPY-1D(v) faces. A video released in August from NASSCO shows the destroyer undocking with white plastic over the areas where the system were installed.

NAVSEA told USNI News that the DDG Mod 2.0 program will use the Raytheon AN/SPY-6(v)4 radar, a version of the active electronically scanned array radar that the service is building its new Flight III guided-missile destroyers around.

SPY-6 is based on two-foot squared cubes that are linked together to create the radar. The version for the Flight IIIs is made up of 37 blocks per radar face, while the Flight IIA back fit will include 24 blocks.

AN/SLQ-32(V)7 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block 3 array in 2019. Northrop Grumman Photo

“The engineering has already been done and matter of fact is what the shipbuilders will do is they’ll remove all the SPY-1 equipment off the ship. Our 24-[cube] array configuration has an adapter plate that goes on the array that actual bolt into the exact location where the SPY-1 was and there’s no weight issues at all from a topside perspective,” Raytheon SPY-6 program director Mike Mills told USNI News on this month.

It’s unclear when the Navy will move ahead with the back fit program in earnest beyond the SEWIP installations. The Navy is approaching DDG MOD 2.0 as a major acquisition program, Galinis told USNI News.

“What we’re really looking at doing is trying to manage [DDG MOD 2.0] more like an acquisition program where we determine the contractor that’s going to do that work, to provide that on a repeatable basis to drive learning, and to lower the costs and scheduling applications to the ship,” he said.

For their part, some in Congress have been skeptical of the program based on the Navy’s largely unsuccessful attempt to modernize its guided-missile cruise fleet.

“It is unclear to the [Senate Armed Services] committee how the Navy’s more ambitious near-term modernization plans for destroyers, including back fitting a SPY-6 radar and installing a larger electronic warfare system, could succeed if the Navy cannot manage the cruiser phased modernization program,” reads report language from the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

Western Navies See Strategic, Tactical Lessons from Ukraine Invasion

The lessons emerging from the war in Ukraine for Western countries and their navies, and for maritime matters more broadly, ranging from the strategic to the tactical levels, the chiefs of the French, U.K. and U.S. navies told the recent inaugural Paris Naval Conference. “One thing we should all take away is the importance of […]

RTS Moskva (121) following an April 13, 2022 strike from Ukrainian missiles. Russian MoD

The lessons emerging from the war in Ukraine for Western countries and their navies, and for maritime matters more broadly, ranging from the strategic to the tactical levels, the chiefs of the French, U.K. and U.S. navies told the recent inaugural Paris Naval Conference.

“One thing we should all take away is the importance of the will to fight,” U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said during a press briefing with the three chiefs following the conference.

Gilday underscored the depth of the Ukrainians’ desire to “fight for their freedom … down to every single person in their society.”

Adm. Pierre Vandier, the French navy’s chief of staff, noted that while the war in Ukraine seems based around a land campaign, it has a significant maritime dimension, while speaking at the Jan. 18 conference along with Gilday and U.K. Royal Navy First Sea Lord Adm. Ben Key. Amongst a range of strategic-level maritime challenges in the Black Sea region, Adm. Vandier pointed to the importance of keeping open the port of Odesa in southwestern Ukraine.

“It was very important to have this [as a] free port,” he said.

Key, who also serves as the British chief of the naval staff, said that despite the heavy land emphasis, the ability to keep Odesa has strong maritime implications.

“The loss of Odesa would have strangled the Ukrainian economy because of the inability to export grain,” Key said. “That would then have created huge food shortages in countries many thousands of miles away from Ukraine […] Even in something that is being contained to a small region, the maritime implications of not having secure sea lines of communication are considerable and will impact the international community.”

Adm. Mike Gilday, Adm. Pierre Vandier and Adm. Ben Key on Jan. 18, 2023.

At the operational level, there are a number of maritime activities underway, including maritime patrol, amphibious forces operations, mining and countermining, blockades and unmanned vessel use, Vandier said.

The war in Ukraine saw the use of USVs in an offensive role, with USVs contributing to strikes. In addition, technologies like cruise missiles have been used in strikes both from sea to shore and shore to sea. Several warships have also been lost.

“[This is] nothing new, but the range of what has been done shows the dimension of the maritime aspect of this war,” Vandier said.

During the conference, Gilday discussed how the Ukrainians are learning lessons themselves, and how their fighting spirit is even filtering down to the tactical level.

“The Ukrainians are learning war while they’re fighting the war, and they’re doing so in a way that is so agile, and so flexible, and so nimble,” Gilday said. “They’re leveraging technology down at the tactical level. This goes down to the soldier on the battlefield.”

“For all our navies and our sailors, that’s the kind of spirit we want,” he continued. “That brings an asymmetric advantage to our navies that perhaps puts you in a position of advantage in a fight.”

A version of this post originally appeared on Naval News. It’s been republished here with permission.

U.S., South Korea Pledge to Expand Military Cooperation; NATO and Japan Deepen Ties

The U.S. and South Korea will step up joint field exercises and bolster joint capabilities to deter and respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats, the defense chiefs of both countries said on Tuesday. In a joint statement, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and South Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-Sup condemned North […]

South Korea’s 28th Infantry Division, Artillery Brigade, U.S 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Striking Brigade,2-17th Artillery Battalion combined live-fire Exercise were held at Kkotbong Shooting Range in Gyeonggi Province. Jan. 23, 2023. ROK Photo

The U.S. and South Korea will step up joint field exercises and bolster joint capabilities to deter and respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats, the defense chiefs of both countries said on Tuesday.

In a joint statement, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and South Korea Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-Sup condemned North Korea’s continued provocations and violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including its missile launches and recent drone incursions. The defense chiefs also affirmed that the ROK-U.S. Alliance, along with the international community, will continue to take a strong stance against any further provocations by North Korea.

The two leaders emphasized that the two nations will continue to bolster the alliance capabilities to deter and respond to North Korean nuclear and missile threats, as well as to expand information sharing and joint planning. The two defense chiefs additionally pledged to closely cooperate in order to continue to deploy U.S. strategic assets in a timely and coordinated manner in the future.

The U.S. and South Korea will hold a Deterrence Strategy Committee Table-top Exercise (DSC TTX) in February, with the goal of assessing and developing response options to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat. The two sides highlighted the combined air exercises in late 2022 that involved U.S. strategic bombers and demonstrated a range of deterrence capabilities of the U.S.-ROK alliance.

“Going forward as well, we will seek together for various measures to enhance extended deterrence implementation, show the public of the Republic of Korea the firm will of the United States commitment to the defense of the ROK,” Lee said in a press conference with Austin.
“We will further reinforce the alliance capability and posture and the combined defense through expanded execution of field exercises and large scale combined joint fires demonstration.”

Neither Lee nor Austin provided details on the exercises that would be carried out, but they will likely be on the same level as the Foal Eagle joint exercises, which were suspended in 2019.

Asked about the types of deployments that the U.S. would carry out in the future to the ROK, Austin referred to the past year’s activities which included the deployments of F-22s, F-35s and the visit by the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group (CSG).

“You can look for more of that kind of activity going forward,” he said, adding that deeper consultations between the two countries and leaderships and more tabletop exercises are planned.

Both Austin and Lee also discussed measures to strengthen regional security cooperation, including ROK-U.S.-Japan trilateral security cooperation, according to the statement, and committed to following up on developing specific courses of action to facilitate trilateral sharing of missile warning data. Conversations are expected to be addressed at a future meeting of the Defense Trilateral Talks.

Both defense chiefs agreed to hold Defense Trilateral Talks (DTT) at the earliest opportunity to discuss concrete measures on how to strengthen security cooperation among the three nations, the statement read.

Japan, Korea and the U.S. already carry out a number of joint missile defense activities like the Pacific Dragon exercise and held a ballistic missile defense drill in October 2022 in response to North Korean missile launches

Austin will now head to the Philippines where he will meet Philippines President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. while hosted by acting secretary of National Defense Carlito Galvez, Austin will also meet with Gen. Andres Centino, the chief of defense, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Enrique Manalo.

NATO and Japan

In Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday, Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pledged to deepen ties between Japan and NATO.

In a joint statement, Kishida and Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. The pair reiterated their support for Ukraine and called for North Korea to fully comply with all U.N. Security Council resolutions and to abandon its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.

Both leaders also shared concerns with Russia’s growing military cooperation with China, including through joint operations and drills in the vicinity of Japan.

Kishida and Stoltenberg raised concerns about Chinese and Russian attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, as well as the militarisation, coercion and intimidation in the South China Sea, due to China’s rapid strengthening of its military capabilities in the region. Both also stated that Japan and NATO’s positions on Taiwan remained unchanged and encouraged a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.

“Beijing and Moscow are leading an authoritarian pushback against the international rules-based order,” Stoltenberg said in his opening statement during his meeting with Kishida.

He said the Indo-Pacific faces growing challenges, from China’s coercive behavior to provocations by North Korea

“If President Putin wins in Ukraine, this would send a message that authoritarian regimes can achieve their goals through brute force. This is dangerous. Beijing is watching closely. And learning lessons that may influence its future decisions,” Stoltenberg said.

He added that what is happening in Europe today could happen in East Asia tomorrow.

Both leaders welcomed progress toward the new framework cooperation document between Japan and NATO, the Individually Tailored Partnership Programme (ITPP), in order to expand current Japan-NATO cooperation. Japan and NATO are exploring expanding cooperation to areas such as defense science and technology including activities with the NATO Science and Technology Organization (STO) and are also accelerating efforts to enhance information sharing.

Stoltenberg wrapped up a two-day visit to the Republic of Korea on Monday with talks with President Yoon Suk Yeol. The two leaders discussed common security challenges and how to strengthen the Alliance’s partnership with Seoul

In the South China Sea

On Friday, U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighters embarked on amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) carried out dissimilar air combat training in international airspace in the southern reaches of the South China Sea with Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) F-15SG fighters, according to a social media post by the service.

On Sunday, embarked Rafale fighters and an E-2C Hawkeye from the carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91), currently deployed around the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea, carried out a drill off India’s west coast with Indian Air Force (IAF) Su-30MKI fighters, an IAF Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and an IL-76 tanker.

Australians, French Avoid AUKUS Talk in Paris Ministerial Meeting, Commit to More Pacific Operations

Australian and French defense ministers pledged to produce artillery shells to support Ukraine against the ongoing invasion from Russia in the first meeting between the two countries since Canberra walked away from a conventional submarine deal with French sub-builder DCNS. French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu and his Australian counterpart Richard Marles met in Paris Monday just […]

(left to right) Australian foreign minister Penny Wong, defense minister Richard Marles, French foreign minister Catherine Colonna and defense minister Sebastien Lecornu. Australian Government Photo

Australian and French defense ministers pledged to produce artillery shells to support Ukraine against the ongoing invasion from Russia in the first meeting between the two countries since Canberra walked away from a conventional submarine deal with French sub-builder DCNS.

French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu and his Australian counterpart Richard Marles met in Paris Monday just over two years after plans to replace the Royal Australian Navy’s Collins-class submarines with DCNS’ Barracuda diesel-electric attack boats were dropped in favor of a nuclear submarine agreement with the U.S. and the U.K., signed in 2021.

“It is the first time that our consultations have taken place at this level — in the so-called 2+2 format – since an incident I shall not come back to,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told reporters in a press conference with the defense ministers and Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

The meeting series was a reset in diplomatic relations following the rift between the two countries following the May election of Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese and the installation of a new national security team.

Rather than talk submarines, the defense ministers agreed to produce thousands of 155mm artillery shells for use by the Ukrainian military against the Russian invasion.

“There are actually complementarities between our defense industrial bases, which allows this to happen,” Marles told following the meeting. “It’s also true that we wanted to act together as a statement about how importantly Australia and France regard the support of Ukraine in the current conflict.”

Marles also fielded questions from the French press on if Australia would consider buying diesel-electric submarines. The questions were prompted by reports the Navy had closed four of its submarine repair dry docks at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., according to a report in Sky News.

“We’re obviously working closely with the United States and the United Kingdom to develop a nuclear-powered submarine capability and develop the optimal pathway to achieve that capability,” Richard Marles said.
“There are no plans for any interim conveniently powered submarine capability.”

The first outline for the plan to produce nuclear attack submarines for the Royal Australian Navy is due in March.

First steps under consideration for the partnership include basing a number of U.S. nuclear attack boats at the RAN’s submarine base near Perth in Western Australia. Those attack boats could be manned by a blended crew of RAN and U.S. sailors, several sources familiar with the ongoing discussions have told USNI News.

The timeline for the Australians to field their own nuclear attack boats is unclear, but U.S. officials have said those subs could be decades away.

In a joint statement, France and Australia committed to continuing to operate in the Pacific and join in international exercises in the region.

“Ministers reiterated their strong opposition to any coercion or destabilizing actions in the South China Sea, including the militarization of disputed features,” reads a joint statement from the meeting.
“They reaffirmed their intention to continue transits and deployments in the Indo-Pacific in accordance with international law.”

To that end, Paris and Canberra pledged greater military logistical support in the Pacific for each other’s forces. Additionally, Australia will take part in the Croix du Sud exercise series off of New Caledonia while France will join the Talisman Saber 2023 drills off of Australia, the Monday statement reads.

The statement also opposed “unilateral changes in the status quo” regarding Taiwanese sovereignty and the statement echoed concern with human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the “erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights and freedoms.”

Bath Irons Works Delivers Destroyer Carl M. Levin to Navy

General Dynamics Bath Iron Words delivered the future USS Carl M. Levin (DDG-120) to the Navy last week, the service announced. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer finished acceptance trials in December off the coast of Maine, USNI news previously reported. “A Flight IIA destroyer, DDG 120 is equipped with the latest Aegis Combat System. The Aegis […]

USS Carl Levin (DDG-120) at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. BIW Photo

General Dynamics Bath Iron Words delivered the future USS Carl M. Levin (DDG-120) to the Navy last week, the service announced.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer finished acceptance trials in December off the coast of Maine, USNI news previously reported.

“A Flight IIA destroyer, DDG 120 is equipped with the latest Aegis Combat System. The Aegis Combat System provides large area defense coverage against air and ballistic missile targets, and also delivers superior processing of complex sensor data to allow for quick-reaction decision making, high firepower, and improved electronic warfare capability against a variety of threats,” the service said in a news release.

Carl M. Levin is slated to commission into service sometime this year.

The destroyer’s delivery comes as Bath Iron Works digs out of a backlog at its Maine yard that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and labor issues at the yard over the last few years. The Navy issued BIW the contract for Carl M. Levin in March of 2014 and the company started building the destroyer in September of 2016, according to the Fiscal Year 2023 budget documents. Those documents listed the delivery for Carl M. Levin as September 2022.

The yard last delivered USS Daniel Inouye (DDG-118) in March of 2021 and the destroyer was commissioned later that year.

BIW has several Flight IIAs and Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers under construction at its yard in Bath. Those include future destroyers Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG-124), John Basilone (DDG-122), Patrick Gallagher (DDG-127), Quentin Walsh (DDG-132), William Charette (DDG-130) and Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG-126), according to Naval Sea Systems Command.

The FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act included language allowed the Navy to ink another multi-year procurement deal for as many as 15 Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, as lawmakers push the service to work up to buying three destroyers per year. The last multi-year deal went through FY 2022.

White House Nominates New Commanders for Pacific, Middle East Fleets

Two admirals currently serving in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff have been nominated to lead numbered fleets in the Middle East and the Pacific, the Department of Defense announced on Friday. Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, currently the vice director for Operations (J-3) on the Joint Staff, has been nominated for a third star and […]

Rear Adm. Fred Kacher (l), Rear Adm. George Wikoff (r)

Two admirals currently serving in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff have been nominated to lead numbered fleets in the Middle East and the Pacific, the Department of Defense announced on Friday.

Rear Adm. Fred Kacher, currently the vice director for Operations (J-3) on the Joint Staff, has been nominated for a third star and to command U.S. 7th Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, according to the announcement. He would succeed the current 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas.

Rear Adm. George Wikoff, current vice director of the Joint Staff, has been nominated for a promotion to vice admiral and to lead U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain. He would follow the current U.S. 5th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Brad Cooper.

Kacher, a career surface warfare officer, has served on cruisers and destroyers and deployed to both the Atlantic and Pacific, according to his Navy bio. At sea, he commanded guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG-106) and served as the executive officer of USS Barry (DDG-52). He commanded Destroyer Squadron 7 based in Singapore and commanded Expeditionary Strike Group 7. Leading ESG-7, Kacher sailed on four patrols aboard amphibious warship USS America (LHA-6). During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, America was underway often in the Western Pacific while carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) was pier side in Guam coping with a COVID-19 outbreak.
He is a 1990 graduate of the Naval Academy.

Wikoff is a career fighter pilot with experience flying F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18s. He has deployed aboard the former aircraft carriers USS America (CV-66), and USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). He commanded the “Fighting Checkmates” of Strike Fighter (VFA) Squadron 211 aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the “Flying Eagles” of the fleet replacement squadron VFA-122. He also commanded Carrier Air Wing 3 that was embarked aboard USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), according to his bio. Ashore his assignments include time as an instructor at Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (TOPGUN, battle director for the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Qatar, chief of staff for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command as chief of staff in Bahrain, executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations and Joint Staff as deputy director for operations.
He is a 1990 graduate of Catholic University.

The following is the complete Jan. 27, 2023, announcement from the Pentagon.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced that the president has made the following nominations:

Navy Rear Adm. Fred Kacher for appointment to the grade of vice admiral, with assignment as commander, Seventh Fleet, Yokosuka, Japan. Kacher is currently serving as vice director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff, Washington, D.C.

Navy Rear Adm. George Wikoff for appointment to the grade of vice admiral, with assignment as commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Central Command; commander, Fifth Fleet; and commander, Combined Maritime Forces, Manama, Bahrain. Wikoff is currently serving as vice director, Joint Staff, Washington, D.C.

USS Nimitz Back in the South China Sea After Singapore Port Visit

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group departed Singapore on Thursday after a port visit and is now back in the South China Sea, the Navy announced on Friday. The Nimitz CSG – including carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and destroyers USS Decatur (DDG-73), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93), and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) – arrived in Singapore at […]

The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) steams through the South China Sea. Nimitz in U.S. 7th Fleet conducting routine operations on Jan. 13, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

The Nimitz Carrier Strike Group departed Singapore on Thursday after a port visit and is now back in the South China Sea, the Navy announced on Friday.

The Nimitz CSG – including carrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and destroyers USS Decatur (DDG-73), USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93), and USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG-108) – arrived in Singapore at Changi Naval Base on Saturday, a day before the Chinese New Year period, known as Spring Festival in China, began on Sunday. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) generally has a less intensive operational deployment during this time, similar to western navies during the Christmas holiday period.

Prior to its arrival in Singapore, the Nimitz CSG operated in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea, where it performed “maritime strike training, anti-submarine operations, integrated multi-domain and joint training between surface and air elements, and flight operations with fixed and rotary wing aircraft, according to a Navy news release. The Nimitz CSG deployed from the West Coast on Dec. 3 and chopped into U.S. 7th Fleet on Dec. 16. The two other ships that are part of the CSG, cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) and destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG-60), are currently operating independently in the Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean, respectively, according to Pentagon photo releases.

Also in the South China Sea is USS Makin Island (LHD-8) and amphibious transport dock USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26), along with the embarked 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, which also includes with USS Anchorage (LPD-23), left Naval Base San Diego, Calif., in November for a deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Anchorage wrapped up its participation in Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT)/Marine Exercise (MAREX) Sri Lanka 2023 on Thursday, according to a Navy statement.

The exercise began on Jan. 19 in Colombo at two Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) bases and also in the Laccadive Sea, according to a 7th Fleet news release.

“The exercise focused on increasing proficiency in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief (HADR), and maritime security capabilities,” the release reads.

The U.S. Navy sent Anchorage and the 13th MEU embarked to the sea phase of the exercise, while the Sri Lanka Navy sent two offshore patrol vessels – SLNS Gajabahu (P 626) and SLNS Vijayabahu (P 627), according to 7th Fleet. Sri Lanka’s air force, the Japan Maritime-Self Defense Force, and the Maldives National Defense Force also joined for the drills.

“Additional exercises conducted at sea included divisional tactics, visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS), replenishment-at-sea approaches, and reconnaissance and gunnery exercises. Helicopters aboard Anchorage successfully carried out VBSS exercises, embarkation, and disembarkation of personnel and material on the decks of the SLN ships involved in the sea phase,” according to the 7th Fleet release.

JS Suzutsuki conducted a bilateral exercise with the French Navy Charles de Gaulle CSG in the vicinity of Western Arabian Sea. JMSDF Photo

Nearby in the Indian Ocean, the French Navy’s Charles De Gaulle CSG continues its deployment after wrapping up the Varuna joint exercise with the Indian Navy on Jan. 20. The Charles De Gaulle CSG currently includes carrier FS Charles De Gaulle (R91), destroyers FS Forbin (D620) and FS Provence (D652), and replenishment ship FS Marne (A360).

Meanwhile, on Friday the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force issued a news release announcing that “Iron Fist 23” will take place from Feb. 16 to March 12 between the JGSDF and the U.S. Marine Corps’ III Marine Expeditionary Force.

The drills will take place near the JGSDF Hijyudai Maneuver Area on Kyushu, Tokunoshima Island and Kikaijima Island, both part of the Amani Islands lying between Kyushu and Okinawa and Camp Hansen, Okinawa, while aviation units will largely stage out of JGSDF Camp Takayubaru on Kyushu. JGSDF forces taking part in the exercise will be the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), 1st Airborne Brigade, and 1st Helicopter Brigade, along with the Western Army Aviation Unit. The U.S. Marine Corps’ 31st MEU will participate, while the U.S. Navy and JMSDF will participate with the America ARG – which features amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6), amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD-20), and dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD-48) – and LST JS Osumi (LST-4001), respectively.

According to the JGSDF news release, this Iron Fist is the first time the drills will take place with both III MEF and in the Western Pacific. The goal is to perform joint operations between Japan and the U.S.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) is about to begin a training exercise, according to a Marine Corps news release issued on Friday.

“This will be the eighth exercise the MLR has participated in since re-designating last year,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the 3rd MLR, said in the release. “We’ve progressed from wargaming Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations in a classroom to now conducting EABO at a service-level training exercise operating as a Stand-in Force under a Division headquarters. MLR-TE gives us a chance to train hard, refine tactics and procedures, and continue to rapidly develop this force of the future.”

The Marine Corps plans to take lessons learned from the training event and apply them to Balikatan 2023 in the Philippines in April, according to the release.

In the Philippine Sea, U.S Navy ships from commander, Task Force (CTF) 70 and commander, Task Force (CTF) 71 finished the Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training (SWATT) drills, according to a separate news release from 7th Fleet.

“Forward Deployed Naval Forces-Japan (FDNF-J) SWATT 2023 was the first multi-international iteration of the exercise with participation from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF),” the release reads.

CNS Yuhengxing (798) Japanese MoD photo

For the U.S. Navy, cruisers USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), USS Antietam (CG-54) and USS Shiloh (CG-67), destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-115) and replenishment ship USNS Washington Chambers (T-AKE-11) participated in the exercise, while destroyer JS Ashigara (DDG-178) joined for the JMSDF. From Jan. 15 through Jan. 23, Ashigara conducted tactical exercises with those U.S. ships and replenishment ship USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194) from south of Kanto, near Okinawa, south of Shikoku Island, according to a news release the JMSDF issued Monday. A Friday JMSDF release said replenishment ship JS Oumi (AOE-426) conducted a replenishment exercise with Antietam on Thursday near Okinawa.

Also on Thursday, a Chinese Dongdiao-class surveillance vessel was sighted at 10 a.m. local time that day sailing northwest in an area 150 kilometers east of Miyako Island, the Joint Staff Office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense said in a news release. The hull number and image in the release identified the ship as CNS Yuhengxing (798) and the ship subsequently sailed northwest through the Miyako Strait into the East China Sea. The release noted that the PLAN ship had transited southeast through the Miyako Strait on Jan. 19, and that minesweeper JS Shishijima (MSC-691) and a JMSDF P-3C Orion Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 5 based at Naha Air Base, Okinawa monitored.

Navy Closes 4 Puget Sound Submarine Dry Docks Following Earthquake Risk Study

Four dry docks the Navy uses to overhaul nuclear submarines in Washington are temporarily closed after the service found they are at risk for earthquake damage, service officials told USNI News on Thursday. The dry docks, three at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., and the delta pier at the […]

The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Olympia (SSN-717) arrives at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a port visit in January 2017. US Navy photo.

Four dry docks the Navy uses to overhaul nuclear submarines in Washington are temporarily closed after the service found they are at risk for earthquake damage, service officials told USNI News on Thursday.

The dry docks, three at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility in Bremerton, Wash., and the delta pier at the Trident Refit Facility in Bangor, Wash., are still certified to overhaul nuclear submarines, but the Navy has decided to keep the dry docks empty pending further investigation.

“The seismic assessment and expert validation enhances the Navy’s knowledge of the potential issues associated with a large earthquake occurring during a submarine maintenance availability,” reads a statement from the service.
“With this new knowledge, the Navy determined that it needs to remediate specific vulnerabilities to ensure the safety of the shipyard workforce, sailors, the local public, the environment and the submarines.”

As a result of the findings, the Navy over the last week brought in about one hundred experts from across the fleet and outside the service to assess the seismic risk to the dry docks, a Navy official told USNI News.

“The risks are still not fully quantified. What we’re doing is no different from what anyone in the Northwest that has facilities is doing – the risk is not localized here. It’s really a regional risk,” a separate service official told USNI News.

The pause at the dry docks will not result in the reduction of the 14,000 personnel working at the yard, the Navy said on Thursday.

The Navy established PNSY in 1901, with the oldest of the six dry docks originally built in 1906. The dry docks the service has closed are four of the newest ones. Dry Dock 4 and 5 were both built in the early 1940s, while Dry Dock 6 – used for aircraft carrier overhauls – was completed in 1962.

The delta dry dock that’s 13 miles away in Bangor was completed in the 1980s as part of the Navy’s support systems for its nuclear ballistic-missile submarine fleet.

“They are all constructed differently and out of an abundance of caution we want to take a look at all of them,” a second Navy official told USNI News.
The Navy has for years known of the seismic risk to Puget Sound, as the facility sits on multiple fault lines, USNI News understands. It’s unclear what new information the Navy gleaned from the recent seismic assessment.

Undated photo of the TRF Bangor Delta pier

The yards in Bremerton and Bangor sit near a major fault line that runs from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino, Calif. In 2001, an earthquake with an epicenter near the shipyard prompted the service to look at the risk to the shipyard.

“Following the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, seismic vulnerability studies identified high-risk facilities in the shipyard, and in response, the Navy began planning and implementing significant seismic upgrades,” reads a Thursday statement from the Navy.

“The Navy continues to plan and conduct upgrades; several projects are in progress, and the remaining facilities will be addressed as part of the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program.”

An overhaul to the dry docks that would allow them to better sustain earthquake damage could take somewhere between 18 and 24 months, based on previous Navy assessments, USNI News understands. That kind of work could include removing the floor and sides of a dry dock and using different types of sand to absorb motion in the case of an earthquake.

It’s unclear how the pause in the four dry docks will affect the backlog of nuclear submarine maintenance in the service’s four public shipyards. According to a 2020 Government Accountability Office report, the Navy had more than 4,000 days of delays in submarine maintenance between Fiscal Year 2015 and FY 2019.

Program Executive Officer for Attack Submarines Rear Adm. Jonathan Rucker in November said 18 of the Navy’s 50 attack submarines were in maintenance or waiting to go into a yard for an availability.

The Navy brought down its average number of maintenance days from 1,500 to 1,600 in FY 2019 to about 1,100 in FY 2022, Rucker said at the time. The Navy hopes for that number to go down to 700 days by FY 2026.

Given the physical characteristics of submarine maintenance work, a limited amount of it can get done pierside, USNI News understands.

While the Navy could divert some attack submarine maintenance to other locations like Point Loma, Calif., and even potentially Guam, Puget Sound and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard are working through a backlog of submarines.

When factoring in the potential for a conflict in the Indo-Pacific and accidents like the 2021 incident with USS Connecticut (SSN-22), which hit an uncharted sea mount in the South China Sea, the capacity could become further strained.

The ballistic-missile submarine work at Bangor, however, could become a more immediate issue. SSBNs go into the Trident facility for shorter, more intense maintenance periods that average about 40 days before heading back out for patrols. This allows the Navy to surge the sea-based leg of the nuclear triad when necessary.

For now, the Navy is continuing to analyze mitigation efforts for the dry docks and is unsure as to when it will reopen them.

“We’ve got a hundred people across different organizations and different seismic backgrounds that are bringing some unique solutions and ideas to this,” the first Navy official told USNI News.
“The Department of Defense pulled out all the stops to try and get the right people together quickly to go after this.”

Russian Arctic Threat Growing More Potent, Report Says

Russia’s Northern Fleet’s ballistic missile submarines and strategic bomber force’s capabilities remain intact despite the heavy toll the country’s invasion into Ukraine has had on its naval infantry, army and special forces assigned to the Kola Peninsula, a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found. The Arctic remains “of great strategic […]

Russian Borei-class nuclear submarine Generalissimus Suvorov. TASS Photo

Russia’s Northern Fleet’s ballistic missile submarines and strategic bomber force’s capabilities remain intact despite the heavy toll the country’s invasion into Ukraine has had on its naval infantry, army and special forces assigned to the Kola Peninsula, a new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies found.

The Arctic remains “of great strategic value to Russia,” Njord Wegge, a professor at the Norwegian Defense University College, said this week as the report was released. On the military side, the Kola Peninsula in the Arctic provides a gateway for Russia’s Northern Fleet’s attack and ballistic missile submarines to move through the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom [GIUK] gap to reach the Atlantic

The “Russian Arctic Threat” report noted Western-imposed sanctions on the Kremlin for the Feb. 24 invasion may have a future effect on Russian defense industry’s ability to deliver future strategic capabilities. The report mentioned their effect on ship construction and updating conventional land, sea and air weapons systems that rely on imported technology. The report cited the benefit and importance of keeping tight sanctions on dual-use computer chips that could be used for Moscow’s conventional forces in the Ukrainian fighting.

It remains to be seen how sanctions will work over the next four years, said Colin Wall, associate fellow in CSIS’ Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program. For now, “Russia will probably have to make tradeoffs” in spending and where it commits military resources as long as the war continues.

Russia has already deployed advanced tanks to the fight and could soon be sending advanced air defense systems to better protects its forces against a spring offensive, Wegge said. Both moves put further strain on the Russian industrial base.

In addition to smuggling and trading with partners who ignore the sanctions, “China has been important partner in the past” and could be again in filling in these military technological gaps, Wegge said. So far, Beijing has not stepped in to fill Moscow’s immediate military needs as Iran did with drones.

“Russia has had 10 years of successful modernization” of its forces that it can fall back on, he said, specifically citing hypersonic weapons and silencing its submarines.

Wall, who co-authored the report with Wegge, added, with Finland and Sweden applying for NATO membership Russia’s goal of “protecting its second strike capability” is of heightened concern in the Kremlin. Moscow’s other strategic goals in the Arctic are: protecting the Northern Sea Route as a potential major trade route between Asia and Europe; and protecting its energy industry in the region, a major source of outside revenue.

When Sweden and, especially, Finland are admitted to NATO, the security equation in the Arctic will change. Both panelists agreed the High North has been a region of relatively low tension.

The report noted Russia’s defense minister warned “retaliatory measures are required” such sending more land forces to northwest Russia if the two are admitted to the alliance.

CSIS Graphic

With Finland a member, the alliance would have better highway access and now rail access to the northernmost areas of Europe. In addition, Finland has a “broad mobilization base” in reserve manpower and stockpiled conventional arms, weapons and ammunition, Wegge said.

Wall described the Kremlin’s comments as “ratcheting up” tensions. He added it was unlikely immediately that United States or NATO would create a Baltic or Arctic Command in the near future.

“The Arctic is not going to shoot to the top of the priority list” of American immediate security concerns, Wall said. He expects U.S. presence to grow but to continue to rely on allies and partners to keep an eye on Russian activities.

Speaking at a Wilson Center event Thursday, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Michael Ryan, deputy commandant for operations, policy and capabilities, emphasized presence. “It’s about being there … to be successful” in providing security for the region, he said.

Adding the Arctic is a “unique domain” for security and military operations, Ryan said. The service’s expanded commitment can be seen in its building a heavy icebreaker and looking to buy another existing large icebreaking vessel to operate continuously there. Both are part of a long-term effort to rebuild the nation’s icebreaking fleet to three heavies and three medium icebreakers.

The CSIS report stated the Northern Fleet has two “ice-class” vessels in its number and can call up 46 civilian icebreakers when needed. Some of those icebreakers are armed.

Wegge noted at CSIS the American Marines and the Army’s 11th Airborne Division, based in Alaska, have stepped up training exercises in the High North with allies like Norway and large-scale exercises like Trident Juncture. For years, the Marine Corps has been prepositioning equipment in northern Norway to use in a crisis.

He added Norway can play a pivotal role in Arctic security in providing air and maritime awareness with its advanced platforms and technology.