Surface ship maintenance is a significant burden and only growing in complexity. Since 1998, expenditures have increased markedly, with surface ship maintenance accounting for 17.9 percent of the Department of the Navy’s $211.7 billion request for fiscal year (FY) 2022.1 Advanced war-fighting systems, increasing bureaucracy, and growing operational demands have all contributed to the difficulty of sustaining a fleet at sea. Although maintenance is a daily conversation at every level, responsibility and accountability on board ships are relegated to collateral duty.
Per the Standard Organization and Regulations Manual, the ship’s maintenance management officer (SMMO) is responsible to the commanding officer for coordinating the planning, execution, and documentation of ship maintenance requirements at the depot, intermediate, and organizational levels.2 Although the maintenance and material management coordinator is responsible for the programs that track the completion of maintenance, he or she does not have ownership of the full maintenance process. The port engineer provides corporate knowledge but is accountable to the type commander and not part of ship’s force.
Currently, the SMMO is written and executed as a collateral duty.3 Responsibility for the effectiveness of $37.8 billion of the Navy’s operational budget in FY22 is only a collateral duty.4 The Navy should make SMMO the primary duty for an engineering duty officer (EDO) on board ships.
The Navy does this in other communities. Supply officers handle the Supply Department, including disbursing. In recognition of the increasing importance of the cyber domain, it introduced information professional officers. It created information warfare officers. As these domains grew, the need for expertise at the officer level was recognized. The parent communities incorporated these positions in their community progression. For an EDO, duty as SMMO should be a significant “on path” milestone for a fully qualified, post–regional maintenance center (RMC) tour.
EDOs are well versed in the maintenance life cycle of a ship. As ship supervisors during their RMC tours, they are intimately involved in building and planning availability work packages, coordinating with government and contractor repair entities, and executing availabilities. They are master-level engineers and acquisition professionals. They are exposed to parts of the maintenance process that surface warfare officers typically do not see.
To implement this change, EDOs must be ship’s company, accountable to the commanding officer. In addition to SMMO duties, they should absorb several shipwide programs that significantly influence maintenance completion: maintenance and material management, departures from specifications, quality assurance, safety, industrial hygiene, and zone inspections. For availability planning and daily execution, they would be the primary conduits for ship’s force to port engineers and RMC ship supervisors. Although it would remain at the commanding officer’s discretion, the EDO also could be the coordinator for the Board of Inspection and Survey, an inspection based on the material condition of equipment that identifies repairs to be accomplished at all maintenance levels.
Having an EDO on board would increase surface warfare officers’ and sailors’ knowledge of the maintenance process. Commanding officers would have the help of experts in one of their most important areas of focus. And the Navy would have appropriate attention paid to a large portion of its budget. Putting EDOs as primary duty SMMOs on ships would align experts to tasks, allow surface warfare officers to focus more on warfighting, and deliver better speed and efficiency to the complex task of maintaining the Navy’s gray hulls.
1. Robert W. Button, Bradley Martin, Jerry M. Sollinger, and Abraham Tidwell, Assessment of Surface Ship Maintenance Requirements (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015).
2. OpNav Instruction 3120.32D, Standard Organization and Regulations Manual (Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 16 July 2012).
3. OpNav Instruction 3120.32D, Standard Organization and Regulations Manual.
4. Highlights of the Department of the Navy FY2022 Budget, Office of Budget–2021.