Struggle to keep US fleet up to spec

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The U.S. Navy’s aging surface fleet is getting harder to maintain, and overall is showing declining health in several key areas, such as its main propulsion systems, electrical systems and Aegis combat systems, according to an annual report of the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey submitted to Congress earlier this year, Defense News reports.

The so-called INSURV inspections found that over five years, the surface fleet found big dips in the main propulsion systems — the plants that produce the power to push the ship through the water — as well as in the electrical systems and aviation systems. The Aegis systems, a collection of sensors and software that protects the ship primarily from air threats, has also shown some signs of slipping over the last half-decade.

The declining trend comes after years of intense focus on readiness inside the Defense Department, but the Navy says that recent changes to how the Navy conducts the notoriously intrusive INSURV inspections are making the fleet more ready. Still, the slipping scores do raise questions about whether the Navy’s much-in-demand surface combatants are getting adequate time in maintenance.

For INSURV, ships are graded across a wide variety of systems, with scores adding up to a “figure of merit” where perfect equals 1.0. Over more than 30 surface ship inspections in 2019, the Navy tracked a 20 percent drop in scores between 2014 and 2019 in the main propulsion plant and another 20 percent drop in scores for the ships’ electrical systems.

Aegis, which is the beating heart of the combat systems on cruisers and destroyers, saw a slight but concerning drop from a figure of merit of 0.88 in 2017 to 0.77 in 2019. Aviation systems, the systems concerned with launching and recovering rotary wing aircraft, dropped from 0.77 in 2014 to 0.68 in 2019.

By contrast, scores from submarine main propulsion — governed by strict Naval Reactors guidelines and inspections — scored figures of merit of 0.94, submarine electrical systems scored 0.90, and submarine combat systems scored a 0.84.

Overall, the Navy’s surface fleet got high marks in navigation systems, medical systems, anti-submarine warfare systems and preservation.

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