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US Navy dry dock plans have blown out by billions, says GAO

Rendering of Dry Dock Project at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Photo: GAO/US Navy.

The US Government Accountability Office’s latest findings have raised some eyebrows after a US Navy plan for Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard was revealed to have blown out by at least US$10 billion in four years.

The US Government Accountability Office’s latest findings have raised some eyebrows after a US Navy plan for Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard was revealed to have blown out by at least US$10 billion in four years.

The GAO findings, released on 28 June, found conditions at the US Navy’s aircraft carrier and submarine shipyards are poor and a significant number of equipment is outdated.

More concerning is news that some projects, such as those underway to improve the dry docks at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, have seen major cost blowouts.

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Findings released by GAO also accused the US Navy of being unable to provide a full cost and schedule estimate for its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP) to improve its dry docks, facilities, and equipment. It’s understood the US Navy estimate will be unavailable until fiscal year 2025.

The GAO found that an estimated cost for Portsmouth increased from $528 million to $2.2 billion between 2019 and 2021; and the US Navy has encountered “trouble accurately estimating project costs” because the designs are only in preliminary stage.

The dry dock project at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the first and only key SIOP project underway as of January this year. The GAO found that the Navy’s cost sensitivity, risk, and uncertainty analyses were based on the preliminary design and were not updated to reflect the final design for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard dry dock project.

The Navy provided its first plan for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in 2022 at an estimated cost of $6.1 billion, however, that estimate rose to $16 billion in 2022.

“The Navy faces challenges developing a reliable cost and schedule estimate for the full SIOP and its associated efforts, including project uncertainty, volatile commodity prices, and a lack of expertise completing dry dock projects,” the GAO statement said.

Each of the US Navy’s four public shipyards are used to maintain fleet readiness of aircraft carriers and submarines. The US Navy has already reported that without improvements to shipyard infrastructure, it will be unable to support almost a third of the planned maintenance periods for aircraft carriers and submarines through 2040, hindering fleet readiness.

The GAO investigation recommends that the Secretary of the Navy should ensure updating of cost sensitivity, risk, and uncertainty analyses of key SIOP projects throughout the design process; the Secretary of the Navy should ensure documenting its use of different methods to cross-check high-value cost elements of future key SIOP projects; and that the Secretary of the Navy should ensure the use of best practices for well-constructed schedules when developing schedules for key SIOP projects.

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