GAO Study Shows Need for Sealift Boost


October 2017


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A new study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) underscores the need for the United States to further invest in its sealift capacity.


The GAO released its report Aug. 22, outlining the need for the Navy’s long-term sealift recapitalization plan in order to protect the continued utility of the Military Sealift Command ships, which provide jobs for numerous SIU members and support the military in several crucial ways.


According to the GAO, “This report (1) describes the readiness trends of the surge sealift and combat logistics fleets since 2012, (2) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has plans to address an aging surge sealift fleet, and (3) evaluates the extent to which the Navy has assessed the effects of widely distributed operations on the combat logistics force. GAO analyzed 3 to 5 years of readiness, maintenance, and exercise data, based on available data; visited surge sealift and logistics ships; and interviewed Navy, U.S. Transportation Command, and Maritime Administration officials.”


The study found that since 2012, the readiness of the surge fleet has decreased, mission-limiting equipment casualties have increased, and maintenance periods are taking longer than expected. Additionally, the GAO determined that the projected sealift capacity, in millions of square feet, would drop from roughly 11 million in 2017 to 3 million by 2035, and then reduced to zero by 2055 without preventive action.


As stated in the study, “Given the fleet’s dependence on the combat logistics force, waiting until 2019 or 2020 to conduct an assessment, as planned, could result in poor investment decisions as the Navy continues to build and modernize its fleet. Furthermore, without assessing the effects of widely distributed operations on logistics force requirements and modifying its force structure plans accordingly, the Navy risks being unprepared to provide required fuel and other supplies.”


In order to prevent this, the GAO recommended that the Navy design a comprehensive sealift recapitalization plan, and assess the effects of that plan on the combat logistics force.


The Navy concurred with the GAO’s recommendations, stating in their official comments, “In November 2016, the Deputy Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to develop a plan for recapitalizing the surge sealift fleet. As the GAO report notes, that effort is in progress and is being finalized. Navy has coordinated planning options with Office of Secretary of Defense, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), and the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD). The sealift recapitalization strategy that has been developed includes a three-phased plan that extends the service life of select vessels, acquires a limited number of used vessels, and a new construction, common-hulled shipbuilding program.”


The Navy continued, stating that the Department of Defense’s proposal for the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requested authorization for the purchase of used ships that, if approved, will begin the recapitalization process.


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