Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP)
Over the decade 2005-2015, high operational tempo reduced the predictability of ship deployments for sailors and for the industrial base that supports ship repair and maintenance. For example, carrier strike group deployment lengths have increased from an average of 6.4 months between 2008 – 2011and 8.2 months between 2012 – 2014, to 9 months for three carrier strike groups in 2015. Increased deployment lengths have resulted in declining ship conditions and materiel readiness, and in a maintenance backlog that has not been fully identified or resourced, according to Navy officials. The declining condition of ships has increased the duration of time that ships spend undergoing maintenance in the shipyards, which in turn compresses the time available in the schedule for training and operations.
To address these issues, the Navy began implementing a revised operational schedule in November 2014 referred to as the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP). The OFRP seeks to maximize employability while preserving maintenance and training with continuity in ship leadership and carrier strike group assignments, and restoring operational and personnel tempos to acceptable levels.
According to Navy officials, this new schedule is designed to achieve a number of benefits, including increasing readiness and maximizing employability to combatant commanders. The Navy also anticipates that better scheduling will result in increased predictability for sailors and the public shipyards and private ship repair companies that maintain the fleet. The Navy planned to develop optimized schedules for all of its assets, including carrier strike groups, amphibious-ready groups, submarines, Military Sealift Command ships, maritime patrol and reconnaissance forces, and expeditionary units. Navy expeditionary units provide a variety of combat service support and force protection capabilities and include coastal riverine, civil affairs, construction, and explosive ordnance disposal units.
Navy ships routinely undergo depot-level maintenance, which includes major repair, overhaul, or complete rebuilding of weapon systems needed for ships to reach their expected service life. These scheduled periods of ship maintenance and modernization are referred to as maintenance availabilities. Under the Optimized Fleet Response Plan:
PIA - Planned Incremental Availability - is a 6-month availability in which ship maintenance and modernization are performed.
DPIA - Docking Planned Incremental Availability - is a 16-month dry-docking availability in which ship maintenance and modernization are performed.
RCOH - Refuelling and Complex Overhaul - is a 44-month availability in which the ship’s two nuclear reactors are refueled and a significant amount of maintenance and modernization is performed.
Maintenance availabilities for the nuclear elements of the fleet (i.e., aircraft carriers and submarines) are performed at the four Naval shipyards, with support from private shipyards. Maintenance availabilities for the conventional elements of the fleet (e.g., cruisers, destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and Military Sealift Command ships) are performed at private shipyards. For each maintenance availability, the Navy identifies the technical and engineering requirements that are provided to the shipyard for execution. The maintenance timeframes established under the OFRP are adequate and based on technical and engineering requirements, according to Navy officials responsible for ship maintenance and engineering planning.
Before the implementation of OFRP in fiscal year 2015, 8 of 9 (89 percent) aircraft carrier and 74 of 103 (72 percent) surface combatant maintenance availabilities conducted from fiscal years 2011 to 2014 experienced schedule overruns that reduced ships’ availability for training and operations (employability). For example, the 2015 planned maintenance availability for the USS George H.W.Bush (CVN 77) exceeded its 6-month availability by more than 2 months. To accommodate the increase, the Navy reduced the ship’s employability to operational commanders by 3 weeks and compressed its scheduled training by 5 weeks.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s (CVN 69) maintenance availability, begun in 2013, was extended from a planned 14 months to more than 23 months to accommodate 2½ times more growth and new work than the Navy had planned for, as well as shipyard performance issues. The extension required the USS Harry S Truman (CVN 75), which the Navy had intended to be the first aircraft carrier to transition to the OFRP, to complete back-to-back deployments to meet operational demands. This prevented the Truman from entering her OFRP maintenance phase at Norfolk Naval Shipyard as scheduled in fiscal year 2015.
In November 2014 the Navy began a multi-year process of implementing the OFRP, with the goal of maximizing employability, ensuring adequate time for maintenance and training, and restoring operational tempo and personnel tempo rates to acceptable levels. Thus far, only a small portion of the fleet has entered an optimized cycle, and as a result it is too early to assess the OFRP’s overall effectiveness. However, the first 3 aircraft carriers have not completed maintenance tasks on time, a step that is crucial to successful implementation of the OFRP. Further, of the 83 cruisers and destroyers, only 15 have completed a Chief of Naval Operations maintenance availability under the OFRP.
The shipyards face several challenges in completing maintenance on time, such as unanticipated requirements, workforce inexperience, and workload fluctuations. The Navy has been struggling to accurately define maintenance requirements—a key step to completing maintenance on time. Furthermore, private shipyard officials say they may also face challenges as the Navy implements a new contracting strategy. Navy documents show that aligning ships’ command and control under the OFRP contributes to wide swings in port workload, which in turn can have a negative effect on the private-sector industrial base. According to industry officials, these cycles result in unsustainable lows followed by potentially unmanageable highs in workload that they expect will eventually erode the shiprepair industrial base’s skilled workforce. Additionally, Navy officials stated that wide fluctuations in port loading adversely affect private industry’s ability to support public shipyard maintenance work. Navy officials stated that they have begun to take steps to ensure that ships being aligned under a carrier strike group have staggered maintenance start and stop timelines, and that they are studying the effects of OFRP ship alignment on the ship repair industrial base.
Navy officials are aware of the risks associated with OFRP implementation and the challenges faced by both the public and the private shipyards in completing maintenance on time. Navy officials stated that they continually examine and refine the OFRP schedules and have taken steps to address the risks, to include studying options for mitigating workload fluctuations at the ports, hiring additional shipyard workers, and improving their maintenance planning process. Navy officials stated, however, that it will take time for these changes to bring about a positive effect.
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