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CHIPS Articles: Interview with Rear Adm. John Clarke Orzalli

Interview with Rear Adm. John Clarke Orzalli
Commander, Regional Maintenance Centers
By CHIPS Magazine - January-March 2009
A Naval Academy graduate, Rear Adm. Orzalli is the commander of the Navy's Regional Maintenance Centers (CRMC). He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marine engineering and master's degrees in materials science and engineering and systems management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Golden Gate University, respectively.

CRMC was established in 2007 to manage the seven Regional Maintenance Centers located in fleet concentration areas worldwide. The Atlantic Fleet RMCs are located in Norfolk, Va.; Mayport, Fla.; and Ingleside, Texas. The Pacific Fleet RMCs are located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; San Diego, Calif.; Yokosuka, Japan; and Bremerton, Wash.

RMCs combine the waterfront activities involved in ship repair into a single maintenance enterprise to increase fleet readiness, improve ship maintenance processes and reduce costs to the Navy. The consolidation merged the functions of the repair Supervisors of Shipbuilding (SUPSHIPs), Readiness Support Groups (RSG), Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activities (SIMAs), Fleet Technical Support Centers (FTSCs) and port engineers.

This consolidation enables the RMCs to leverage the strengths of the different organizations in work brokering and contracting. The establishment of the ship's Maintenance Team has increased information exchange among all parties concerned and thereby ensured the right maintenance is being completed at the right time. In addition, the implementation of an innovative contract vehicle, Multi-Ship, Multi-Option (MSMO), has increased the partnership between the Navy and private sector, improving response time and saving money.

The RMCs' ultimate mission is to sustain the nation's investment in a fleet of 283 deployable ships by providing cost-wise maintenance to the fleet. CHIPS talked with Rear Adm. Orzalli in November about ship maintenance at the RMC headquarters located on the waterfront of the Norfolk Naval Base.

CHIPS: Was the driver for consolidation of these different fleet support activities to gain efficiencies?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: Yes, by consolidation of activities involved in ship maintenance in a region there are great opportunities for efficiencies. The consolidation takes advantage of improved communication tools and information technology systems in order to provide a better, more consistent service to the fleet.

The process actually started in the early ‘90s with the consolidation of back shop functions, such as motor rewind capability and pump repairs. The classic example was here in Hampton Roads where we had 17 different organic activities that were capable of rewinding a motor.

We established Regional Repair Centers which provided a single location for a specific maintenance function with common processes and training. By doing this we gained efficiencies and reduced our footprint. Those successes spurred further regionalization efforts.

CHIPS: Do you work with the shipyards?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: In actuality some of our Regional Maintenance Centers are also naval shipyards. A case in point, I was the commander at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard when we stood up the Northwest Regional Maintenance Center.

In this case, Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, is the Regional Maintenance Center, and they are responsible to me as CRMC to execute functions of technical support and contract oversight on work that is done in the private sector.

CHIPS: When I think of ship maintenance, I think of pumps and paint, not technology. But maintenance is so much more complex.

Rear Adm. Orzalli: The information and communication systems available today have provided the Navy maintenance community significant capabilities. To the point where we can and have implemented a one-call solution to assist ships.

We have established a global call center that will take world-wide calls and direct them to the proper technician to get the question answered. These technicians immediately work to resolve the problem with the ships via distance support, where they talk the shipboard personnel through the processes, procedures and checks to troubleshoot and repair the system.

If it [issues] cannot be resolved via distance support we will go to the ship. Our technicians are located close to the waterfront, so if the ship is located in port, we can rapidly respond to the ship's needs. If they are overseas, we deploy technicians necessary to provide support.

For the systems which the RMCs don't have the expertise necessary, especially the newer ones, we go immediately to the in-service engineering agent, the SPAWAR [Space and Naval Warfare] Systems Center, or the equipment manufacturer.

The RMCs are the ship's initial call for maintenance support. They solve approximately 95 percent of the problems, but if they can't handle the job, they'll bring in partners. To support this, we have been working with Rear Adm. "Grunt" Smith, vice commander [of] SPAWAR, to reduce response time, to correct system problems, and to make sure all of us are using the same information sharing tools.

CHIPS: Do you have a prescribed time that you want to be able to respond to a problem?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: It depends on how it is identified to us. If the casualty significantly degrades one of the ship's primary warfare missions (category 3/4 casualty), we have specific timelines to meet. If it is a category 2 casualty, meaning the ship can still operate, but is degraded within a functional area, then we will use budget considerations as part of our thought process. We will prioritize the maintenance to determine when it is the right time to repair it. Many times that's right away.

CHIPS: Do you work with the Surface Warfare Enterprise?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: Quite a bit, as most of our work is aboard surface ships, and I am on the Surface Warfare Enterprise Board of Directors and Executive Committee. However, we support the Surface Warfare Enterprise, the Undersea Enterprise, as well as the Naval Aviation Enterprise, in providing services to the ships.

A lot of the systems that we work on, especially in communication and information systems, are on all types of platforms. In working with all the enterprises, I have executed performance agreements which establish expectations of timeliness, costs and metrics. We are driving the RMCs to meet the expectations of the customers.

CHIPS: Does your organization include contract specialists?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: One of the functions of the Regional Maintenance Centers is contracting for private sector maintenance. We have shipbuilding specialists on the deckplate to provide oversight for the contractors for the work, but we also have a contracts department that negotiates with our private sector partners on the contracts.

We have multiple contract vehicles. One of the current initiatives is using portfolio contracts where we have contract vehicles in place for specific functions so we can rapidly put work in place.

In addition, for maintenance availabilities, we have Multi-Ship, Multi-Option contracts for each specific ship type within a homeport. This allows us to develop partnerships and teaming arrangements with a prime contractor for that ship type. They are a one-year contract with multiple option-years designed to improve responsiveness to the ships.

MSMO contracts also provide an opportunity for learning, since one prime contractor owns the contract for maintenance in scheduled availabilities and in unscheduled availabilities. This enables us to make better economic decisions on when to complete the maintenance. We have them for almost every ship and almost every homeport.

CHIPS: What happens if ships are deployed when a casualty occurs?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: We have maintenance facilities at Naples, Italy, in the 6th Fleet; Manama, Bahrain, in the 5th Fleet; and Yokosuka, Japan, in the 7th Fleet. Deployed ships are provided maintenance support according to where they are located.

Each RMC is assigned an area of responsibility to respond worldwide. If the ship is not in the vicinity of our facilities, or they do not have the capability to complete the work, then we can provide worldwide voyage repair by deploying fly-away teams to meet the ship.

CHIPS: Do you coordinate planned maintenance as well as repairs? Is planned maintenance difficult to schedule with the current operational tempo?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: Yes. We work with the ships and the Type Commanders to schedule and execute planned maintenance over the ships' life cycle. The current world situation has increased the operational tempo in support of the Fleet Response Plan. This does make it more difficult to coordinate completion of maintenance in support of the ships' schedules. However, our Multi-Ship, Multi-Option contract partnership has helped us to respond to both the planned maintenance and made us more responsive to meet the emergent maintenance needs.

CHIPS: If SPAWAR had a new software upgrade to ships' systems, would they first come to you for scheduling?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: It depends. For example, in our surface ships we have a maintenance and modernization business plan that we have put together based on proposed alterations for the ship during that execution year, as well as the maintenance budget. Any scheduled availabilities are identified during that time and what work is scheduled to go on during those scheduled availabilities and integration of the alteration work with the maintenance.

For a lot of alterations, we use alteration installation teams and, in some cases, some of the support work for those alteration installation teams goes to the Multi-Ship, Multi-Option contractor to provide support. We try to balance the amount of work that is in alterations to ensure we don't overtax the skill set required for the maintenance or modernization package.

We have had some recent availabilities with huge modernization efforts such as the Iwo Jima here in the Hampton Roads area. This required extensive coordination to manage the interfaces between the alterations and maintenance work packages. We are working to include management measures necessary to ensure coordination by including the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual.

CHIPS: Are the RMCs responsible for upgrades on radar or weapon systems?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: If it is done on the waterfront and part of an availability, then the Regional Maintenance Center is designated the Navy's supervising activity. This means they are responsible for the integration, execution and final certification of the work on that availability even though it is sponsored and paid for by a program manager. This requires strong lines of communication between CRMC and SPAWAR. Our organizations have recognized that if we are to succeed we must work on alignment and communication. Recently, we have made significant strides with communications and teaming partnerships.

CHIPS: I have heard from leadership that there are legacy systems on the ships that they would like to see replaced with modern technology. Would the CRMC be the driver for that?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: We look at this issue from two perspectives. The first is that we do alterations to reduce required maintenance. The Regional Maintenance Centers have an engineering department that provides technical support and oversight of the technical aspects of the repair efforts. If we determine a system has a high failure rate due to a technical or operational issue we can make recommendations to modify components that would reduce the necessary maintenance.

In such cases, we prioritize in order to get the best return on our investment. An example is that we shifted from pumps that require packing, to pumps with mechanical seals, and thereby significantly reduced the repacking requirement. We may also change material types or find replacement components that don't fail as often.

The second perspective is the modernization of systems to support the ships' warfighting capability. We buy ships and keep them in service for 30 to 40 years. In the later years of a ship's service life, finding spare parts and technical expertise for originally installed equipment can be a problem. In addition, systems may become obsolete. In these circumstances the equipment may be performing a function fine, but providing repair parts and technical support become cost prohibitive.

The RMCs provide input for the metrics that we track, which might reveal these trends. We work with the CLASSRONs (Class Squadrons) and the warfare enterprises to determine if a system is troubled and make recommendations to correct the problem.

CHIPS: The job of keeping Navy ships combat ready is extremely challenging. What is the composition of your staff?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: I initially had orders as the commander of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center. From that position it was difficult to implement standard processes and procedures across the RMCs, while coordinating the maintenance on the waterfront. Therefore, a year ago CRMC was formally stood up. From the beginning, my goal was not to raise a large staff but to tap into the individual Regional Maintenance Centers for support and expertise so I wouldn't have to retain it at headquarters.

I have a senior civilian as an executive director that helps me understand the business. I have a senior military officer, a captain, who is my principal interface with all my customers. Since the customers are primarily warfighters, it helps to have a uniformed guy that can speak the same language with the customer.

My staff includes a financial group that not only does the oversight of execution, but is responsible for putting together the capability plans that will generate the RMCs' requirements in order to get programming and funding. We have a process improvement person, who employs the principles of Lean Six Sigma to standardize and improve our processes.

I have a group of information technology specialists who keep the maintenance applications operating. Our assessment person taps into the other RMCs or other activities for expertise to certify that the activities are operating in accordance with the requirements of the Joint Fleet Maintenance Manual.

CHIPS: Where does your funding come from?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: We are funded by Fleet Forces Command out of the ship maintenance funding.

CHIPS: I read on Navy dot-mil that you went to the Mega Rust Corrosion Conference in August. It sounds like your job would offer more excitement than that. Seriously, I know that rust is a huge concern for the Navy.

Rear Adm. Orzalli: You stole one of my lines. I was at the Mega Rust Corrosion Conference and [Rear] Adm. James McManamon from SEA 21 [deputy commander for Surface Warfare] was there. I started my discussion by saying, I was asked by a friend where I was going. When I told her that I was going to the Mega Rust Conference, she said, 'Boy, that sounds exciting,' and rolled her eyes.

When at graduate school at MIT, I worked in the Corrosion Lab for three semesters, so corrosion is a passion of mine from an academic pursuit. The conference brought together a diverse group of scientists, engineers, salesmen and innovators. All of them were looking to address some of the significant issues that we have to deal with from the naval perspective. Rust is generally thought of as a nuisance, but in the Navy, it is a huge cost driver.

We build ships, principally out of steel, and we sail them in salt water. It doesn't take a degree from MIT to recognize that we are going to have corrosion issues. There are three components to the rust issue: the material, the environment and the electrical potential.

The maintenance community attempts to tackle all three. We choose materials that are not susceptible in the environment. However, non-corrosive material suitable in ship applications can be very expensive, so they may not be available from an overall cost perspective. The second thing is to isolate the material, and we often do that with paint.

The third thing is the electrical potential so in multiple systems we have impressed current where we change the electrical potential so even if we don't have paint, the electrical potential is such that the susceptible material is stable. Our paint systems have become much more complicated.

At the conference, we got good synergy and commitment between the paint manufacturers to work on systems that will last in the environment that we are subjected to. There were not any breakthroughs from a technology perspective, but the Navy is committed to using one coat of paint that has a rapid cure with the qualities of longevity and durability that we need to reduce our overall life-cycle costs. Industry recognizes where we are going and that we are committed to it.

CHIPS: Can you talk about the ship paint process?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: It depends; different portions of the ship have different paint cycle requirements depending on the environment. We will paint based on the inspected condition of the tank or surface. Sometimes it depends on how well the initial application stands up. We will do a local area or spot touch-up, or sometimes we will do a full blast, take it down to white metal and start over again.

The systems we are installing today have design life cycles of 10 to 20 years in the salt water environment. The cost of paint is not the biggest cost when you do a paint job. It's the cost of preparation to prepare the surface to accept the paint. If we can reduce the number of times that we have to paint — we will drive down the cost.

We are working on some other things like embedded sensors. A tank with a painted surface could have a sensor inside that will measure the electrical activity in the tank, and thereby tell us if we have a breach in the paint system. There are limited applications at this point, but it enables us to find the problem early and therefore limit the damage and cost.

CHIPS: Can you talk about some the successes that you have had?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: There have been some significant changes in the RMCs since I first reported aboard, and this has been accompanied by some successes. If you look at the population of non-shipyard Regional Maintenance Centers, since standing up in October of 2004, we have reduced from about 8,000 people to a little over 3,000. This reduction has enabled us to reduce the infrastructure and overhead required, as reflected by the Mid-Atlantic Region alone reducing the number of facilities from 17 to five buildings.

One of the areas in which we have made clear progress since the standup of the Regional Maintenance Centers is in availability planning. The RMCs used to conduct the preponderance of detailed planning necessary to execute availabilities, and the contractor would duplicate this effort. Since implementing Multi-Ship, Multi-Option contracts, we simply identify the work, and the contractor identifies the detailed planning that is necessary to complete the work, including material ordering and technical work specifications. This has made a significant impact on responsiveness and cost.

CHIPS: I've read some discussion on the need for more "hands-on" maintenance training for Sailors to replace current computer-assisted training. Do have a hand in recommending training for ship maintenance?

Rear Adm. Orzalli: The RMCs provide limited training opportunities to our Sailors. When our technicians go aboard ship, our Sailors gain experience by observing and participating in the troubleshooting process.

We conduct some limited classroom type training on specific systems within our facilities. In addition, the shipyards and some of the RMCs operate a journeyman-level training program called Navy Afloat Maintenance Training Strategy.

As far as the issue of computer-based training, I was the graduation speaker at Great Lakes two months ago, and I had an opportunity to visit the Navy's training facilities for A School. They have some computer-based training, but the Sailors also get the opportunity to conduct hands-on troubleshooting and repair of the actual equipment.

Since the ships are the driving factor in the training pipeline for our Sailors, my role in this area is different. I talked with the Fleet Master Chief to ensure that we have a good feedback mechanism between the ships on the waterfront with the schoolhouse. We need to continually review our training programs to ensure that they meet the ships' requirements and identify where the maintenance community can provide support.

To view Rear Adm. Orzalli's biography, go to and click on the Navy Leadership link.

Rear Adm. John Clarke Orzalli
Rear Adm. John Clarke Orzalli
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