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Current facilities inadequate for planned Pacific buildup

By Therese Hart

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 21, 2008) – The U.S. Navy has not identified voyage surface ship repair requirements for 2012 and beyond for vessels operating near Guam, according to a recent General Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The report states that existing Navy-owned capabilities in Guam are inadequate to address current voyage repair requirements for surface vessels and are unable to address additional voyage repair requirements without increased capabilities and capacity.

Navy officials said that they cannot estimate such requirements because the Navy has not fully identified its future Pacific force structure or finalized operational plans. The Marine Corps has not finalized its plans for any additional vessels associated with the buildup, and Military Sealift Command expects changes to its force structure for ships operating near Guam.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review indicated that the Navy plans to operate six aircraft carrier strike groups and 60 percent of its submarine force in the Pacific. In addition, the service has plans for a 313-ship Navy, but it has not yet identified the specific ships that will comprise the force structure in the Pacific beyond 2012.

Also, the Navy plans to replace the USS Kitty Hawk at its homeport in Japan with the USS George Washington – a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Officials stated that operational plans for that carrier's strike group will include visits to Guam for periods of two to three weeks.

Similarly, the Marine Corps' plans for additional vessels in Guam have not been finalized, but conceptual plans for relocating Marines from Okinawa to Guam may include the home porting of four new High-Speed Vessels and two new Littoral Combat Ships. Additionally, the relocation from Okinawa to Guam is expected to result in visits by amphibious vessels home ported in Japan.

Navy officials identified potential options for providing repairs in Guam but have not fully assessed their viability or identified time-critical planning tasks. Officials said that they will not begin planning until preparations begin for submissions to the president's budget for fiscal year 2012. However, lead time is required to perform planning tasks necessary to provide repair capabilities. Without assessing the viability of each option for voyage repairs in a timely manner, the Navy increases the risk that voyage repair capabilities for ships operating in the Pacific may not be available when needed, potentially undermining ships' ability to accomplish their mission, according to the report.

The Navy relies on four different sources to provide repairs in Guam. First, the USS Frank Cable, a ship home ported in Guam provides voyage repair capabilities for submarines when needed. Second, the Navy relies on its Emergent Repair Facility, a repair crew left behind from the USS Frank Cable when that ship is deployed. Third, fly-away teams from naval shipyards have been sent to Guam to conduct voyage repairs when needed. And finally, the Navy has used its contract with Guam Shipyard for voyage repairs of both submarines and surface ships and newcomer Gulf Copper Inc. However, these options are inadequate to meet the increased demands for the buildup.

The Department of Defense's (DOD) planning effort for a military buildup in Guam, which could have an impact on ship repair requirements, has begun. DOD plans to relocate 8,000 Marines and 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam, construct a new Navy pier to support visiting aircraft carriers, improve piers to support visiting amphibious vessels, increase the submarine presence in Guam and the Pacific region, and locate an Army ballistic missile defense capability in Guam, according to the report.

GAO recommends to DOD that the secretary of defense direct the secretary of the Navy to estimate requirements for repairs for surface vessels operating in or near Guam, assess the benefits and limitations that exist in each of the options selected for providing repairs to ships operating near Guam in the future, and perform an assessment of anticipated costs and risks associated with each option and select the best option, or combination of options, for providing repair capabilities to support surface ships operating near Guam, and develop a plan and schedule for implementing a course of action to ensure that the required ship repair capability will be available by October 2012. In the report, DOD concurred with all of the GAO's recommendations.

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