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Research Questions

  1. How much would moving to a 72-month operational cycle improve operational efficiency and crew effectiveness?
  2. What issues and challenges must the Navy must grapple with should it decide to proceed with this new operational cycle?
  3. What are the potential cost savings associated with moving to a 72-month operational cycle?

The Navy is seeking ways to operate its ships more cost-effectively. One approach might be to alter the employment schedules of Navy surface vessels to get the greatest benefit in terms of operating efficiency and crew effectiveness. The Navy is currently transitioning from a 32-month to a 36-month cycle, but adopting a 72-month operational cycle could increase the time surface vessels are deployed, allow for multiple deployments between depot availabilities, reduce the number of basic training periods, and achieve some cost savings by removing the crews during the depot maintenance period.

This report assesses a 72-month operational schedule followed by an extended depot maintenance period for one class of ships — the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class of destroyers — to determine what cost and efficiency benefits this approach might yield. The authors find that this longer cycle would lead to a modest increase in operational availability but also to an increase in maintenance costs, and that it would require the Navy to better address ongoing maintenance issues that have accrued over the years.

Key Findings

Benefits, Costs, and Challenges Associated with a 72-Month Operational Cycle

  • Moving to a 72-month operational cycle would increase operational presence by about 7 percent, relative to a 32-month cycle.
  • A 72-month operational cycle could lead to greater cohesion among crew members, because they would stay together longer and deploy together more often.
  • Moving to a 72-month operational cycle would reduce the number of crews needed for the fleet. This could lead to manpower savings, but only if the Navy were to divest itself of these surplus crews and reduce end strength.
  • A 72-month operational cycle would lead to a substantial increase in maintenance costs, relative to the 32-month cycle. In the long term, this increase would more than offset the potential savings from reduced end strength.
  • It is unclear whether a 72-month cycle will help the Navy cope with several maintenance issues that have accrued over the years.


  • Before moving to a longer interval between depot maintenance, improve current maintenance planning and execution. The Navy should correct impediments to availability execution, fully document maintenance requirements for surface combatants, develop a maintenance plan for the longer cycle that increases continuous maintenance and focuses on lifecycle critical maintenance, and evaluate the effect of maintenance demands on private providers.
  • Ships entering a longer operational cycle should do so in a high state of material readiness, and this should be verified this with complete evaluations of readiness.
  • Award maintenance availabilities in a fashion that allows for sufficient time for planning the work; the surface type commander must commit funding at the time of the award.
  • Fine-tune training to fit additional deployment needs.
  • Closely manage operating tempo.
  • Use the model described in this report to provide a fleet-wide examination of maintenance and operational deployments, and how best to manage the various factors that are affected.

The research was sponsored by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) Director of Assessments (N81) and conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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