Skip to comments.15 Subs Kept Out of Service: 177 Months Of Drydock Backups
Posted on 11/01/2017 3:36:57 PM PDT by Snickering Hound
WASHINGTON: A massive maintenance backlog has idled 15 nuclear-powered attack submarines for a total of 177 months, and the Navys plan to mitigate the problem is jeopardized by budget gridlock, two House Armed Services Committee staffers told Breaking Defense.
That is almost 15 submarine-years, the equivalent of taking a boat from the 2018 budget and not adding it back until 2033.
While only Congress can pass a budget and lift caps on spending, the staffers said, part of the solution is in the Navys hands: outsource more work to private-sector shipyards, something the Navy does not like to do.
As the submariner community prepares to gather in Washington, D.C. for the annual Naval Submarine League symposium, a lot of subs are in rough shape. The most famous case is the USS Boise, which was scheduled to start an overhaul at the government-run Norfolk Naval Shipyard in September 2016 and is still waiting. The government finally gave up and awarded a $385.6 million contract for the work to privately run Newport News Shipbuilding just across the James River this month. All told, the Navy says the Boise will be out of service for 31 months longer than originally planned.
But Boise isnt the only one. Figures provided to us by HASC show 14 other submarines are affected, with projected delays ranging from two months (USS Columbia, Montpellier, and Texas) to 21 (Greenville). And the Navy cant simply send them back to sea, since without the maintenance work, the submarines cant be certified as safe to dive something the fleet takes very, very seriously ever since the USS Thresher disaster of 1963. To ask Naval Reactors to bend the rules is heresy, one staffer said.
The Navy does have a plan to mitigate the problem, but it cant get rid of it. If the Navy were able to move money, reshuffle schedules, extend certifications, and take other steps, then it would get many of the suns into maintenance sooner and slash time lost across the fleet to 81 months.
Thats still almost seven years that submarines could be at sea but arent. If you put all this on a single notional sub, it would lose 23 percent of its normal service life. For comparison, pro-Navy legislators are struggling to increase the annual number of attack submarines built from two to three. Losing seven years of submarine time is the equivalent of taking a new boat from the 2018 budget and only adding it back in 2025.
And that, again, is with the mitigation plan.
The chart above shows these figures. What this chart doesnt show, the staffers warned, is a growing backup elsewhere: not in submarines needing mid-career maintenance, but in worn-out subs waiting to be decommissioned.
It turns out that you cant just toss out a nuclear-powered war machine when youre done with it. Theres a complex process to deactivate the reactor, remove the parts of the submarine that remain radioactive, and hand off the non-irradiated rest of the sub for dismantling.
Whats more, theres a period towards the end of a nuclear submarines life when its reactor core can no longer pump out enough power for operations at sea, but it still requires supervision by a full-up engineering crew. That means old subs waiting to be scrapped arent just parked somewhere: About half their normal crew is still aboard. As a result, delaying decommissioning wastes both money and highly trained personnel.
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If I was the Navy I’d have a problem outsourcing work to shipyards not used to handling classified work. It would be too easy to sabotage a sub. Also, the equipment aboard is largely classified. Heck, if the NSA can’t guarantee its classified contractors aren’t going to publish national secrets, how could a dockyard guarantee a welder won’t purposely create a few bad welds that will fail at depth?
The Navy refuses to outsource.
However, ALL of these attack subs are built by the outsourcer Electric Boat.
This is a problem with the Navy, not the budget.
While sequestration is causing a lot of issues and weakening our defense posture, this isn’t one of them.
“how could a dockyard guarantee a welder wont purposely create a few bad welds that will fail at depth?”
Ask GE’s Electric Boat division.
They built them all.
With civilians. With clearances.
Our enemies(China) know we are becoming a one punch wonder with no way to sustaining a long protracted fight. Especially a naval war.
They outsourced the work to Newport News, which probably built the submarine in the first place. I’m sure they’re capable of handling the overhaul.
The implication of the article was any old shipyard would do.
As I said, sequestration DOES cause problems, but this isn’t one of them.
The boat in your link was destroyed while at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, NOT an “outsource” shipyard.
“The boat in your link was destroyed while at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, NOT an outsource shipyard.”
What I got from it was the Navy had tightened up on who could work on their subs. I think that was prudent. However, that has caused a big backlog. (That was not discussed in the article. But I’ll wager that is the issue.)
Having worked in the cleared world, I can attest that it is much more difficult to get a clearance today. The process of getting clearances is seriously backlogged and only a huge funding increase would address that issue. Funding will not increase because solving that problem is not sexy or obvious and there is no political gain for a politician to resolve it.
Thank you! I’m going to pass this to Steve!
because every weld is x rayed.
More money will solve nothing. Firing a bunch of Admirals and various ring-knockers will.
I suspect that is so - and given the welding fire incident that scrapped the USS Miami, I'd say that the change was needed.
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