San Diego's Fleet Readiness Center Southwest at Naval Air Station North Island is badly broken and must be fixed to avoid a big hit on the nation's combat readiness, says an audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office of the Pentagon's 21 repair depots released April 29.
"The state of the facilities at FRC Southwest declined in the fiscal years reported," per the report. "The overall condition of the facilities has decreased from fiscal year 2013 to 2017 and is in the 'poor' category. Additionally, facility repair ticket requests have increased."
The document goes on to say that, "schedule performance has decreased over the last 11 years. Schedule performance for aircraft has decreased by 22% and by 4% for components." Labor hours per completion, the report adds, have "increased since fiscal year 2012."
As North Island backlogs have mounted, costs have soared, and repair delays have worsened. "The average age of equipment is 26.8 years which exceeds its expected service life by 11.4 years. Meanwhile, its overall equipment repair requests have increased by 183%."
Officials at the San Diego facility – responsible for repairing and maintaining many of the Pentagon's combat workhorses, including the F/A-18 Hornet, MV-22 Osprey, and a host of helicopters – "identified about $53 million in backlogged restoration and modernization projects in fiscal year 2017."
Four years ago, the General Accounting Office sounded the alarm about deteriorating conditions at the North Island repair depot. But the new report says there has been little or no apparent progress on alleviating the situation here since the June 30, 2015 audit.
"High flight hour aircraft inspections and repairs contributed to carryover because structural repairs generally require more time to complete than nonstructural repairs and work on the high flight hour aircraft delayed work on other F/A-18 aircraft because there were not enough...engineers and artisans, support equipment, and facilities," the 2015 report found.
Annual backlogs "exceeded the allowable amounts," from fiscal years 2004 through 2013," the 2015 audit said, soaring from "less than $1 million in fiscal year 2005 to $121 million in fiscal year 2011."
San Diego was not alone on the Pentagon's bad news list for 2019. "Twelve of the 21 depots GAO reviewed––more than half – had ‘poor' average facility condition ratings," according to the latest audit, and the real situation may be even worse than it currently appears.
"While none of the depots had a failing average, facility condition could be worse than the data indicate. Some service depot officials stated that they believe their ratings may not reflect the actual state of the facilities, thereby making the physical condition of facilities appear better than they are."
"The average age of depot equipment exceeded its expected useful life at 15 of the 21 depots. These factors contributed, in part, to a decline in performance over the same period. From 2007 to 2017, performance at the depots generally declined, reducing the availability of the weapon systems repaired for training and operations."
"Depot maintenance delays cause the services to incur costs for which they receive no capability. For example, we reported in November 2018 that the Navy is incurring significant costs associated with / maintenance delays on attack submarines.
"We estimated that from fiscal years 2008 to 2018, the Navy had spent more than $1.5 billion...to crew, maintain, and support attack submarines that provided no operational capability. This was a result of the submarines sitting idle and unable to conduct normal operations while waiting to enter the shipyards, and from being delayed in completing their maintenance at the shipyard."
Auditors came up with 13 ways "to improve data collection on the effect of facilities and equipment condition on depot performance and develop plans that incorporate key elements to guide depot investments." The Defense Department "concurred with 12 recommendations but did not agree to monitor and report on depot investments," according to the document.