Vice Adm. Tom Moore, USN, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, discusses US Navy efforts to increase public and private ship repair capabilities, lessons learned from repairing USS John S. McCain and Fitzgerald, the new Ford-class aircraft carrier, getting the Littoral Combat Ship on regular deployments and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia. Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia. We are an SNA media partner for the event and our coverage is sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, GE Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vice Admiral Tom Moore
Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command
Surface Navy Association Conference
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here at the Surface Navy Association’s Annual Conference and Trade Show in Northern Virginia, the number one gathering of Surface Warfare leaders from across the United States Navy and around the world including some of the senior-most Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard team leadership. We’re partnered with the Surface Navy Association in covering this show, where our coverage is sponsored by Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Electric Marine, L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
We’re positively honored to have with us one of our repeat guests, Vice Admiral Tom Moore, the Commander of Naval Sea Systems Command. Sir, it’s always a pleasure talking to you, and it wouldn’t be a Navy show if you weren’t part of it.
Vice Admiral Tom Moore: Thanks, Vago. It’s great to be back. It’s my one time a year to look great on TV, so I appreciate that.
Mr. Muradian: Exactly, sir. Your beauty is very important to us as I’ve said to you in the past.
A lot of stuff going on in your portfolio, and a very, very dramatic period. I know Hondo Geurts and the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, the Navy Acquisition Executive as well as the Vice Chief convened a Ship Repair Summit late last year. We had an opportunity to talk to Mike Petters about that, a little bit about the importance of both the public yards, as well as the private yards, working together because there’s a backlog of ships. The Navy leadership got concerned. I’m going to ask you a little bit about the lessons learned in the Fitzgerald and McCain incidents. But the Navy leadership looked at that as hey, hold on, if we have four damaged ships, how quickly could we regenerate that capability? We talked a little bit about that last year at Navy League.
Talk to us sort of in the main about generating shipyard capacity. The BRAC process shut down a lot of very good shipyards, so we don’t have them available, whether it was Brooklyn or Philadelphia or out in California. Now folks are going like wow, you know, we optimized to a T, but we don’t have any elasticity built into the system. Talk to us about regenerating that rich support repair service capability and also how you drive that forward, because that’s also a NAVSEA responsibility, to be able to repair these ships no matter where they are in the world.
Vice Admiral Moore: I think there’s two pieces to it. One, on the public side of the house, I think we do have the capacity. We don’t have Charleston Naval Shipyard, Long Beach Naval Shipyard, Mare Island. But based on the size of the force today and where we’re headed with 355 ships, the four public yards we have today along with the nuclear [main three doing] the aircraft carrier out in Japan, we have sufficient capacity to do the work we need to do.
Where we have lacked in the past ten years is not in the physical layout, but we haven’t had enough workers at those facilities to do the work. We have taken some major steps by going from hiring from 33,000 workers up to 36,000 today, and as we’ve gotten there and are starting to get them trained, you’re starting to see some of the dividends of that in terms of the through-put in the yards, and we just delivered North Carolina early in Hawaii. It was 25 days early coming out of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. I could go down the list. We’ve got a couple of outliers.
But we’re starting to see improvements there and have recognized that hey, if we go to war, can you build yourself some surge capacity in case you need it?
Our biggest challenge is on the private sector side, and you mentioned this summit between the Vice Chief and Secretary Geurts and industry, primarily focused on the private sector side where we need them to grow capacity. The big challenge for industry is, and the reason they haven’t grown the capacity, is you haven’t had stable, predictable budgets.
So they’re behaving rationally. The acquisition system that we use today where we compete every single availability really leaves them in a position where they don’t know from month to month what their workload looks like and if they have a backlog.
So we are actually, one of the focuses of the summit was to get industry feedback. What can we do to provide them with more stable and predictable work, but yet keep it in a competitive environment? I think you’ll see going forward we’re laying out some changes to the way that we’re going to contract. We’re going to go away from this contract one ship at a time, to bundling ships together into a, where there’s multiple ships in a solicitation. Then also look to perhaps contract for a ship class over a five to ten year period. We’ll compete the work, but if you win it you get it for a long period of time. Then you start building that backlog and industry will hire. And if we get to that point they’ll hire and we’ll have the capacity we need.
I think what Fitzgerald and McCain showed us is we don’t have a lot of excess capacity. So the challenge remains there, is the nation willing to invest in having additional capacity available in the event that you would go to war? That’s a challenging problem, because it costs money.
So I think one of the things we’re looking at, if you look for instance on the submarine side of the house, we’re going to contract some work out to the private sector. We’ve got four submarines between Newport News and EB. We’re looking at future work.
We’d like to do that for two reasons. We’d like them to have some work because it builds some proficiency, it helps their overhead as they build Columbia and stuff, but just as importantly, it helps us when we’ve got a resource problem at the naval shipyards, and then it builds some proficiency for them in the event that we would have, God forbid, an emergency or went to war and we needed somebody else to go do the work.
So there’s a holistic approach across the board here to go tackle this going forward. If you ask me what’s the number one thing I’m working on in NAVSEA right now it’s private sector surface ship maintenance and how we grow that capacity.
Mr. Muradian: Once upon a time, you’re the one who mentioned also Charleston. I grew up in New York City. Brooklyn Navy Yard was very, very important. An incredible drydock facility there.
Vice Admiral Moore: I was born there.
Mr. Muradian: You were born in Brooklyn. Actually, we’ve discussed that. It’s always good to talk to a fellow New Yorker.
But that’s now a development complex or whatever it is. A lot of these facilities have been decommissioned. Do we need to invest, for example, in floating and other dock capability that we can use and surge, especially forward in the Pacific if we need to to do some serious higher-level maintenance?
Vice Admiral Moore: I think we’re looking across the board, so a couple of things.
One, we are considering, the Navy’s considering whether we should purchase our own drydock, maybe one on each coast that we would have certified and available so that in the event that we needed it, that someone could lease it back from us.
The other thing we’ve done is we went out with a request for information. We basically went out across the board and we said if you have a drydock and it’s not a Navy-certified drydock. For instance, for cruise lines, there are a lot of drydocks that are not for Navy ship use. If you would like us to come certify that drydock so that we have a longer list of drydocks available to us, we will come certify your drydock.
We got a lot of interest in that, and we’ve got a long list, 10 to 12 drydocks, that we are interested in going out and certifying so that we have that available. It doesn’t mean that we’ll use them on a routine basis, but they’re certified, and if we go to the point that we needed it, we would be able to do that.
Then the challenge out in the Pacific is a little bit more challenging. You’ve got some capacity in Japan. We’re looking at a [floater] that we could add to Pearl. Then there are a number of other pieces in between there that we’ve looked at. Hey, do we need some additional capacity? At this point we’ve concluded between Japan and Pearl Harbor, we think we have the capacity to do what we need to do.
All the things you just mentioned there are on the plate and we’re looking at all of those things.
Mr. Muradian: Any specific Fitzgerald or McCain lessons learned? Obviously the damage to the Fitzgerald a lot more serious than it was to McCain. McCain is back out. Were there any clear lessons of hey, how to tackle this work to really do it more quickly?
Vice Admiral Moore: I think the first thing we learned on McCain was that when you have water in a space that has electrical cabling and things of that nature, you might think you can salvage the cabling and cable sheath. You’re better off, the structural work is the structural work. You’re better off to just pull the stuff out and put new cabling in. That was probably the big lesson learned from there. That’s relatively cheap.
That’s the one thing that slowed us down a little bit on McCain, it wasn’t the structural work, is we thought we could be a little bit more affordable and save some of the electrical components and the switch gear that was in that area, but the bottom line is once you get salt water in a space, it’s really hard to know that you’ve gotten it all out of there. And we have found as we started to turn equipment back on, things that we thought we had cleaned and dried, et cetera, weren’t perfect.
So in hindsight we would have done that. And we’ve actually in ESB-5 and the Oscar Austin and a couple of the other things that have occurred lately, we’re factoring that into our plan so that we can, we’ll get in there a little bit quicker.
Fitzgerald, significantly more damage. I think we learned the robust design of the ship saved the ship, and we also recognize that we don’t have the capacity forward to handle something that major. So probably the big lesson learned that came out of Fitzgerald is if you have that significant amount of damage, how do you get the ship back to where you can do the work on it? Remember, the Fitzgerald collision happened in the summer and it really was almost the December time-frame before we got the ship back to the United States. It took us five or six months to get that ship back. You don’t have that time in war.
So we have thought about well, hey, we have this amount of damage, how do we get these ships lifted back quicker than we would have otherwise?
The McCain, we could do the work in Japan. But Fitzgerald was so extensive that we had to bring her back to a build yard in the United States. I think the big lesson learned out of her was how challenging it is to get a ship moved that can’t move on her own out of theater and get it back to the United States.
Mr. Muradian: One of the things which we’ve talked about speed, and one of the things you were talking about was sort of not a penny-wise pound-foolish mentality, right, but you were trying to be frugal, but you realized you were actually imposing costs on yourself by actually not saying hey look, this is all going to be a write-off and let’s get rid of it.
One of the things Hondo Geurts has talked about is let’s spend a little bit more money to get a ship out of the dock faster, for example. Right? In contract negotiations, let’s raise some of these ceilings. Don’t necessarily go for that last penny that you can save as potentially a contracting officer when you can save $5 million extra dollars by getting the ship out of a drydock.
Walk us through that kind of thinking, which is actually perhaps key to moving stuff faster, but also doing stuff faster and actually saving money in the process. Because I know you spend a lot of time thinking hey look, what are the boundaries and what are the different ways of doing this to be able to get that work done, actually save money on the project overall if you spend a little bit more, whether on cabling or busses or transformers or whatever?
Vice Admiral Moore: It’s always a fine line on the contracting side of the house as to are you trying to save $10 more and it’s going to take longer to negotiate? So we certainly had a look at that.
I would say on the drydock side of the house, I think what the Secretary’s getting at is we have a tendency when we get into drydock to say well, while we’re in there, hey, we’ve got a bunch of other work we need to do.
Our goal should be get the ship into the dock and do the work that’s only required in the dock done, and get her out of the dock, because that tends to be the critical path of delivery. Until you get out of dock you can’t start that counter to delivery. So if the work doesn’t have to be done in the drydock, let’s get her out of drydock. We can finish that other work when she’s in the water.
Mr. Muradian: Let me take you to one of our favorite topics, the USS Gerald R. Ford. A favorite ship. I’ve got a little bit of history there. The Secretary of the Navy made a joke about elevators that he may have to resign later this summer if the bomb elevators don’t work. There’s a lot of urban legend built around the ship and its capabilities and its EMALS. I know that you answer a lot of those with great patience and humor.
Walk us through what works on the ship, what doesn’t work on the ship, and the challenge on where we are in EMALS, where we are in the arresting gear, and where we are on the elevators, which a little bit like bad welds on Columbia tubes, you wonder the elevator? I mean we have so much new on the ship from the propulsion plant to the reactors. The elevators are the issue?
Vice Admiral Moore: Well, the elevators are a complete new design. But let me get to the rest of the stuff first, then I’ll get back to the elevators.
EMALS, we launched twice as many planes as we had planned during the shakedown period and it worked great. We were very happy. With that, we’ll continue to operate, we’ll continue to learn about logistics support to increase reliability. But the EMALS worked.
AAG worked as well. We had some challenges structurally with the water twisters. We’re changing those out during the PSA. That’s ahead of schedule.
So I think if you look back in 2011 when I first took over the PEO the big concern is EMALS and AAGs. Both those systems are working. You can go talk to the aviators who have flown on and off the ship. We’re going to be happy that we have those going forward, based on the capability that they bring, the less wear and tear on the aircraft, et cetera.
Just like anything else, we’ll have some bugs that we’ll work out, but in terms of in the main do they work? They work fine. There’s no issue there.
The new radar on board is working great, the Dual Band Radar. We have some things that we’re tweaking there just on power management, but the radar itself worked great. And as you know, 78’s the only one that’s going to have that. We’re going to go transfer over to the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar for
CVN-79, but no issues with the Dual Band Radar.
The propulsion plant’s working fine. Really across the ship I think we’re very pleased to where she is in the PSA.
And of course the big issue is the Advanced Weapons Elevators which are magnetically driven up and down through the shafts without being cabled. I think the big lesson learned there is, again, this is a big lesson learned as we head to future surface combatants and the frigate, et cetera. If you have a really, really new technology you haven’t used before, you’re better off to invest some money in a land-based test site and test it out. If you go look at EMALS and AG, extensive land-based testing. Dual Band Radar the same thing out at Wallace Island. The one place that we did not choose to invest in a land-based test site is the weapons elevators. So the ship itself has been the land-based test site, and we’re paying a price for that.
So we’ve got one of them turned over to, the 11 turned over to the crew. They’re operating it. We’ve learned a lot of lessons there. I expect the pace to pick up going forward. But they’re going to remain a challenge all the way through the end of the Post Shakedown Availability and I think at the end they are still going to be the critical path to delivery of that ship out of the PSA, and you need the weapons elevators to make it a combat ready ship. So we’re not completely out of the woods on weapons elevators. We’ve learned a lot. We’re rolling all those lessons learned into CVN-79 and 80 so we won’t see those problems there again, but they certainly have been a challenge for us.
Mr. Muradian: But you’re confident it’s going to be licked and the Secretary of the Navy will still be around later this year.
Vice Admiral Moore: I’m confident the Secretary of the Navy will still have a job. Yes. That’s correct. I might be going with him if he doesn’t.
Mr. Muradian: Yeah. Well, very good. We want to thank you for your service. No, I’m just joking.
Let’s talk a little bit about the submarine portfolio briefly, and I want to ask you about the frigate in a moment.
There was the weld issue on the Columbia Class that was a little bit unanticipated. It surprised some people because given the nature of the sophisticated propulsion plant and all the stuff that’s going to be going into that ship, folks were like welding issues on tubes? There was a lot of discussion on the margin you guys had on the program. But Eric Labs, one of America’s leading naval analysts has used a very big number for what he anticipates the cost could balloon to. I think it was like $17 billion or something like that for the lead ship, which Navy officials have pushed back on.
Talk to us a little bit about the weld issue. What that does for the schedule. Because there are folks who look at it as hey, if something so simple had a weld issue, are there other things in there that could drive the cost up and then potentially derail the rest of a very finely machined 30-year ship-building project?
Vice Admiral Moore: I’m not intimately involved in the cost of it other than the technical side of the house. Columbia’s a very complex platform. There’s a lot of activity going on there. Things that are going extremely well.
The welding issue, I think what the welding issue on these missile tubes, I understand people say yeah, that’s pretty simple. It’s welding. It’s not a simple welding issue, exactly what they’re doing, but it does point out that the industrial base is pretty fragile. In other words, there’s not a lot of depth.
So you’ve got welding, you’re building Block 4, you’re getting ready to build Block 5. You’ve got four-plus carriers. You’re building Columbia. So we had a company that was doing the welding there. They had a good track record up to then. The oversight of the program with all the other things that were going on was not probably to the level that it should be. I think we learned a hard lesson, that the talent level to do this type of welding across the board, a lot of it was focused on the ship and in other important areas of the ship that we got right, and this is an area that probably if you want to look at BWXT and the company itself, they probably, there’s a tiered level of expertise in those and their top welders were probably doing other things besides that, because it looks on the surface to be simple.
Now we’ve come through technically what we’re going to do in that, so we’ve got a way ahead and we’ll solve that.
Columbia, as everybody has said, it’s got a long way to go to 2028, and having done Ford, you’re going to try and predict all the challenges you’re going to have for the next nine years. I’d hesitate to do that, other than say we have the best teams out there working it today, and we’re tackling challenges as they come up, and it’s going to be, as all these first ship of classes always are, it’s going to be a race to the finish line, to the end. But where we are today, I’m confident we’re going to make it.
Mr. Muradian: Let me ask you two questions before you get the hook. I’m happy to stay here and talk as long as you’re available.
On the frigates. The frigate program is very, very important. It’s a very, very novel program that has a variety of different kinds of ships, a lot of different kinds of technologies. And there’s a question about the flexibility of the Naval Sea Systems Command to move, and the technical warrant holders, to give some more leash.
How are you approaching this? Because the Navy is looking at the frigate program a little bit like the MQ-25, that it can help redefine acquisition but also then be game-changing in the kind of capabilities that you can field.
So what’s that balance? For example, you have an Italian frigate that has an established base. Obviously you’re trying to make tradeoffs there on what’s NAVSEA component, what’s not. A lot of the other ships are very dissimilar from what classical frigates would be, whether the two LCF designs, even though they’re in the process, you have Navantia which is building terrific frigates out there which are very, very popular, but are different a little bit, even though probably more similar in some ways to U.S. Navy specs.
How are you going to make each one of these individual decisions that allow you to never devolve to hey, this is just the way we’ve done it and we’re going to go back to that to kind of keep this ball moving, especially if you do have ships that actually might have remarkably high availability rates, kind of close to where they’re being pitched.
Mr. Muradian: It’s a balance. If you go look at the requirements that we build into our ships which are in many cases more hard and more shock-hardened than some of the other designs out there. All those ships that you just mentioned there, the Italian frigate, the one that Navantia built. Great ships. We’re going to go look at the specs that they use to build those ships. We’re going to take a broad look at those. We’re going to be open to accepting other standards there, as long as it doesn’t compromise some of the basic warfighting and safety that we put in.
I’ll give an example, out in Japan where we do work with the Japanese, they came back and their welding standards were slightly different than ours, and they said hey, we don’t want to have to use your welding standards. We’re trained in this. We took a look at it and said the way you’re doing it is satisfactory and you do not have to use our welding standard. We will qualify your welding standard so that you can continue to use it.
I think when we get to the frigate, system by system we’ll take a look where it makes sense, because we don’t want to be in the well, that’s the way we’ve always done it. If there’s a particular component or system out there that we can look at and we can assure ourselves of the requisite quality and safety, then we’re going to be happy to stick with the standards that it came with.
There may be cases where we have to up-gun it to meet the standards that we have always had in our ships, but it’s clearly not going to be a one-size-fits all, and we’re open to the discussion.
Mr. Muradian: And let me ask you about military construction. There’s a lot of debate and discussion about whether the, and I don’t want to put you at all in the position to be debating the President, but the President has looked to a variety of different sources in the event of he declares a national emergency, and on the MILCON side of things to take some of that MILCON money and redirect it toward border wall construction.
But one of the things which senior Navy leaders and you and I have talked about this is the importance of that MILCON investment in the shipyards to get the capability up in order to be able to solve the readiness problem that we have which is for force generation.
Talk to us about the challenge there and how important that MILCON funding is, especially for the United States Navy at its yards and its installations to assure that one of the key parts of American power, which is the deliverance of sea power, is robust?
Vice Admiral Moore: I don’t set priorities on how the money’s spent, so I’ll stay out of the middle of that. The $21 billion plan that we’ve laid out to optimize the naval shipyards over the next 20 years involves a significant amount of MILCON as part of it. The reason for that is, these are shipyards that have been around for several hundred years. So while we have paid to add work force and capacity in the shipyards, people alone are not going to solve the problem.
As we grow the size of the force to 355, in order, if you really want to get the through-put and you want to be able to get the ships in and out on time, which is critical to meeting the naval power demands that we have today, then you’re going to have to recognize you’re going to have to make some investments in the shipyard. Whether it’s in drydocks, whether it’s in recapitalizing the equipment that the work force is using, whether it’s moving shops for shipyards that were really designed for new construction closer to the site of work which is really the way you do things today. I tell people all the time, don’t forget in a shipyard the work force walks the circumference of the earth every single day, getting to and from the work site.
So those investments are important for us. It’s a long-term plan to get there but they are important to our ability to deliver readiness back to the fleet for sure.
Mr. Muradian: And a brief LCS question which I’ve asked every other leader so I have to ask you this as well. Is this the break-out year for LCS in terms of getting the support and all the infrastructure together to be able to deliver this kind of capability on a very regular, predictable basis as a deployable fleet asset?
Vice Admiral Moore: I think so. You listen to the CNO and listen to the Vice Chief, this is the year. I was just out in San Diego and it does my heart warm to walk down the, I was in the LCS Trainer and they drove down the waterfront and you see all the LCS-2, the Independence Class line on the waterfront. Then about a month before Christmas I was down in Mayport and the basin is full of LCS-1 Class ships.
So I’m a big fan of LCS. I have always been a big fan of the LCS. I believe five or ten years from now we’re going to look back and ask what was all the fuss about?
This is an important year for us because the build rate’s up. We’re delivering them on a pretty regular basis. We’ve got a whole host of them getting ready to come out of Post Shakedown Availability. This is a really important year to just go out and, now that you have the ships go out and demonstrate how you’re going to use them.
We’re going to learn some things as we use them, but I think this is a very important year for LCS and I think it’s going to be an important year because it’s also going to demonstrate the value LCS has to the Navy.
Mr. Muradian: And the logistics structure as far as you’re concerned, the support structure is there now?
Vice Admiral Moore: Yes, in both Mayport and San Diego the support structure is there. Both on the repair side of the house and from a training side of the house. We’re looking at some innovative ways to do maintenance on LCS going forward.
Back to my comment earlier about drydocks and capacity, LCS is one of those ships that we would look at a longer-term maintenance contract, competitively bid, to allow somebody to be the expert on LCS because it’s somewhat of a unique class and I think there’s some value there.
Mr. Muradian: And more spare parts, right? You can never have enough spare parts.
Vice Admiral Moore: You can never have enough spare parts. You heard it here first.
Mr. Muradian: Vice Admiral Tom Moore, Commander of the U.S. Navy Sea Systems Command. Sir, always a pleasure and an honor. Thanks very much, and I hope you have a good SNA.
Vice Admiral Moore: Thanks, Vago. Great to see you. I look forward to next year or sooner.
Mr. Muradian: Very good, thanks.