Refueling and Complex Overhaul of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68)

Lessons for the Future

by John F. Schank, Mark V. Arena, Denis Rushworth, John Birkler, James Chiesa


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The midlife refueling/complex overhaul (RCOH) of a nuclear aircraft carrier may be the most challenging engineering and industrial task undertaken anywhere. In addition to refueling the onboard reactor, a variety of maintenance and repair actions must also be undertaken, all while the entire ship is being modernized. The midlife refueling/complex overhaul (RCOH) of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68), completed in 2001, took five years of planning and three years of execution. This was the first RCOH for the Nimitz class and only the fourth ever accomplished on a nuclear aircraft carrier. Numerous budget, work-requirements changes, and a four-month labor-union strike during the overhaul caused the scheduled completion of the project to slip by several months and resulted in significant cost growth. This book analyzes the planning and execution of the CVN 68 RCOH to identify changes in processes and procedures that could lead to better cost and schedule performance for the nine remaining Nimitz-class RCOHs. Many improvements in planning and execution have already been implemented for the CVN 69 and 70 RCOHs; based on our study findings, we suggest that the following three sets of additional actions be taken: (1) improve the planning process; (2) improve data and estimating capabilities; and (3) improve the relationship between the Navy and its carrier construction contractor, Newport News Shipbuilding, the only U.S. shipyard with the capability to build and refuel nuclear aircraft carriers.

Table of Contents

  • Summary

  • Preface

    All Prefatory Materials

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two


  • Chapter Three

    Budgeting, Planning, and Contracting for the RCOH

  • Chapter Four

    Cost Growth

  • Chapter Five

    Assessing the Planning and Execution Processes

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Chronology and Work Schedule

  • Appendix B

    The 1999 Strike Against Newport News Shipbuilding

  • Appendix C

    Commercial Analogs to the RCOH Process

The research described in this report was conducted for the U.S. Navy within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of RAND's National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center.

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