At a time when America’s adversaries are challenging its carrier fleets around the world, the U.S. Navy found itself scrambling to fix defective elbow pipes on its new Virginia Class attack subs. The faulty parts valued at $10,000 or less, have kept the $2.7 billion dollar Virginia Class Attack Submarine Minnesota sitting in a shipyard for 2 years, finally returning to the fleet in May of 2016.
These faulty elbow joints are near the innermost chamber of its nuclear-powered engine are very expensive to repair and difficult to reach. There are concerns the flawed pipe fitting may extend beyond the three attack submarines (Minnesota, North Dakota, and John Warner) to other ships in the fleet. At the moment no other attack subs have been recalled from deployment, but the parts will need to be replaced within a few years to reduce risk during combat.
A report issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRN), “Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” published on March 17, 2017 points out major operational and cost implications associated with the faulty parts. As of August 2016, the defective parts have been fixed on all three attack subs involved, but questions still remain as to how it happened and how much it cost the Navy to repair. The Navy refuses to comment as the investigation grinds on.
Three Virginia-Class Boats Built with Defective Parts Another issue for Congress concerns three Virginia-class boats that were discovered to have been built with defective parts, and the operational and cost implications of this situation. A March 28, 2016, press report states: In early 2015 engineers on a brand-new submarine made a troubling find: A pipe joint near the innermost chamber of its nuclear-powered engine showed signs of tampering.
The defective elbow pipe, used to funnel steam from the reactor to the sub’s propulsion turbines and generators, showed evidence of jury-rigged welding that could’ve been designed to make it appear satisfactory. But the part was already installed, the sub already commissioned.
These defective parts, each probably valued on the order of $10,000 or less, have kept the $2.7 billion attack submarine Minnesota languishing in an overhaul for two years, while engineers attempt to cut out and replace a difficult to reach part near the nuclear reactor. Meanwhile, Navy engineers are scouring aircraft carriers and other submarines for problems and criminal investigators are gathering evidence.
The unauthorized parts are impacting three new Virginia-class attack submarines, likely extending the post-shakedown overhauls for the other two subs and adding greatly to the final tab at a time these fearsome vessels are needed around the globe to defend carrier groups and strike America’s adversaries. It’s also trapped its crew in limbo as repair deadlines come and go, while other subs must take their place.
The Minnesota, the 10th Virginia-class attack boat, was delivered 11 months ahead of schedule. But it has been in the shipyards at Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut for two years—more than twice as long as a normal post-shakedown availability. It still has months to go. The plankowner crew has spent only a handful of days at sea since joining the fleet and experts say they’re likely to forfeit their whole deployment cycle, forcing fleet bosses to make tough decisions about whether to extend deployments or withhold forces from missions overseas.
News of the lousy parts first emerged in August, a month after the Minnesota was to have finished its overhaul. Since then, a Justice Department-led investigation is examining the quality control issues that led the shoddy part to be installed in the $2.7-billion sub.
The same shoddy elbow joints were installed aboard attack subs North Dakota and John Warner, forcing the Navy to spend millions of dollars and many more months to repair them. If these pipes ruptured, they would leak steam and force the submarine to take emergency measures that would impair its combat effectiveness….
At the center of the debacle is pipe-maker Nuflo Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida-based manufacturer that is the focus of the investigation into quality control issues, according to two Navy sources familiar with the inquiry. The investigation has delayed the repairs so that agents can recover evidence, sources said….
Making matters worse are concerns that the flawed pipe fittings may extend well beyond the three identified attack submarines. In a statement, NAVSEA, which oversees ship construction and maintenance, said it has sent inspectors across the fleet to test Nuflo-made fittings on other ships.
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