Ship Infrastructure Maintenance and Service Life

Key points from the Early Bird article (with my editorial comments interspersed and some remarks at the end)
  • Ship combat system obsolescence used to be the main driver for ship relevance/service life
  • Most important point: hull, mechanical and electrical system conditions may become the primary reasons ships don't reach expected service lives
  • The Navy has a tendency to evaluate maintenance performance and status on very short-term criteria, such as whether a ship meets its next underway date, not the accumulation of material deficiencies or maintenance backlog so this is how we evaluate the performance of both our operational and maintenance leadership and how they make decisions about the content of work packages. We have weak tools/methodologies to evaluate how well we balance near-term operations vs. maintenance that supports expected service life (Soule-this is not to say it could not be done, some of the ship-type planning activities have robust tools to identify when the two are not in balance, but projecting the impact of deferred maintenance on readiness and operations, the holy grail of budgeteers, remains elusive)
  • Close adherence to Class Maintenance Plans (Soule-something we discarded in the 90s for certain ship types) is the only antidote to allowing operations and budgets to drive port engineers (all great human beings that want the best for their assigned ships) to decide whether to perform maintenance or delay it and "waking up" ten years later to learn that we did not get the results we hoped for (lots of near-term operations at low cost without any long-term impact).
  • Ship type maintenance planning groups collect data to develop a feedback loop to learn the impact of some types of deferred maintenance actions (tank coatings is a good example). (Soule-but the predictive capability of their models may never be robust enough to evaluate whether a ship will reach its full service life because the system interactions (inter and intra-ship) are probably too complex.)
  • We still lack a way to evaluate, communicate, and budget for correction of the *impact* of maintenance that "falls through the cracks" either for financial or operational considerations (Soule-we do know how to track *what* does not get done and add it to the next overhaul; projecting impact is *much* harder). If you must defer maintenance for operational commitments and unplanned events (collisions, yuk), you cannot "catch up" in the next fiscal year because our budget process does not support it. This is not a small problem.

Additional Soule comments worth discussion in small groups (a blog post is a poor substitute).

Some ship-type maintenance and modernization planning activities have good data to show there is a material escalation cost for deferring work. A tank that was in a particular condition one year does not get better with time (usually worse and therefore more expensive to preserve in the future). I have personal experience that communicating this fact generates a strong reaction from normally rational people.

There are some that believe the maintenance community "over maintains" ships, spending too much money on repairs and alternations at the expense of combat systems upgrades and operational availability. These people had their heyday a few years ago, but will always have a lot of influence in the Navy because of appropriate deference to operations (not including the fatuous "maintenance does not drive operations" mantra). The evidence typically cited is the cost and time spent doing maintenance and anecdotal observations that ships can still operate (up to a point) with lots of deferred maintenance due to design redundancy.

There probably is some truth to the belief that we spend too much money on maintenance using slow, cumbersome processes so this is why Cumbersome Work Practices and robust strategies for updating Class Maintenance Plans, to cite just two examples, even though their total financial impact is usually very small (usually much less than 5% of maintenance budgets). It is also why the maintenance community should be vigilant about regulatory ratcheting and spending additional customer funds on "good ideas" that cannot be tied *very* closely to improved readiness because it is a lot harder to remove them later.

Finally, even if X (maintenance requirements) = Y (maintenance capability) = Z (maintenance funding) each year (which it won't due to impending budget cuts, but just for the sake of argument here), we will *always* be deferring maintenance due to operational considerations and what the operators like to call "fact of life" changes. The role of the professional maintenance community is to clearly, calmly, and with great specificity communicate the impact of deferred maintenance the best we can so the operators know what the impact of their decisions is. If all we can say is, "I need to do more tank preservation this availability," the resulting conversation will not be conducive to getting more maintenance done. The more maintainers can relate deferred maintenance to increased maintenance costs and reduced service life, the stronger the argument becomes. If this was easy, you would not need a professional maintenance community.