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3 Virginia Attack Boats Sidelined as Part of Investigation into Suspicious Welding

USS North Dakota (SSN-784) during August 2013 sea trials. US Navy Photo

USS North Dakota (SSN-784) during August 2013 sea trials. US Navy Photo

Naval Sea Systems Command has restricted three of the newest Virginia-class submarines (SSN-774) due to questionable welding in piping instrumental in connecting the boats’ nuclear reactors to its propulsion system.

According to a statement provided to USNI News on Wednesday, NAVSEA confirmed USS Minnesota (SSN-783), USS North Dakota (SSN-784) and USS John Warner (SSN-785) are currently being inspected for faulty welding after contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat discovered three steam pipe elbows which required repair after “unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs” were performed on the questionable components.

The story was first reported by Defense News.

The inspections will result in restricted operations for the trio of attack boats — including Warner which was commissioned last week — until cleared.

A representative of Electric Boat reached by USNI News on Wednesday night referred all questions to NAVSEA.

According to the Defense News report, the issue pipe elbow issues was less the immediate safety of the boats but a concern of “long-term wear and tear.”

NAVSEA officials told USNI News the investigation was not related to one mounted last year over third party components found in the bow and the stern of North Dakota.

The following is the complete Aug 5, 2015 statement from NAVSEA provided to USNI News.

As part of an ongoing investigation into a quality control issue with a supplier, General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) determined that three steam pipe elbows supplied by the vendor in question required additional testing and repair due to unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs having been performed on these elbows.

GDEB along with Huntington Ingalls Industries – Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) are performing additional inspections to bound the issue. Currently, USS MINNESOTA (SSN 783), USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN 784), and USS JOHN WARNER (SSN 785) are impacted.

The Navy is committed to ensuring the safety of its crews and ships. High quality standards for submarine components are an important part of the overall effort to ensure safety.

  • Refguy

    So the “most lethal” ship may be lethal to its crew?

    • @NotRizzo

      This is more of a readiness issue, we aren’t talking about hull welds, but internal equipment work.

      • AncientSubHunter

        Granted, the Thresher wasn’t a “hull weld” issue until it passed its crush depth.

        However, these words should, once more, haunt us:

        During the 1963 inquiry, Admiral Hyman Rickover stated:

        “I believe the loss of the Thresher should not be viewed solely as the result of failure of a specific braze, weld, system or component, but rather should be considered a consequence of the philosophy of design, construction and inspection that has been permitted in our naval shipbuilding programs. I think it is important that we re-evaluate our present practices where, in the desire to make advancements, we may have forsaken the fundamentals of good engineering.” (USS Thresher Wiki)

        Perhaps a few words could be added or re-arranged to bring it up to a 2015 standard.

        This, from the Defense News piece:

        The problem, said the senior Navy official, “is not a safety concern in terms of what’s involved right now. Basically it’s being prudent in looking into it.” The concern, the official added, is “long-term wear-and-tear.”

        Hmmmm…”…in terms of what’s involved right now…” An interesting example of the never-ending flood that is NavSpeak.

        Makes me wonder if the terms the senior Navy official is referring to might be that all three boats are safely tucked away at pier side?

        At any rate, Refguy might be on to something.

      • Refguy

        There are many ways for a steam leak to be fatal: scalding, being cut in half by high-pressure steam, loss of propulsion are only a few.

        • AncientSubHunter

          Precisely.

          And a loss of even one crew member to a stream that has cut him or her in half is a loss to the entire crew, family, Navy…

  • NavySubNuke

    “due to unauthorized and undocumented weld repairs having been performed on these elbows”
    This is the part of the issue that turns it from a simple quality control problem into a criminal/fraud investigation. If you can’t make the elbows correctly you lose some money – if you fake making the elbows correctly you lose a lot more money and you risk going to jail.

  • Larry Ford

    During my tour (60s) the sub-safe, Level 1 system
    was developed to hopefully insure the integrity of the hull, and hull fittings.
    The program was intensified by the loss of the Thresher with

    all hands, and included civilians.

  • Larry Ford

    In addition, as the Nuclear Navy became a reality, Rickover’s influence, bolstered by his dedication and intelligence, was priceless. Every fast attack, and boomer sailor knows it!

  • Joel Weinbaum

    So much time is spent now keeping up with phone messages, software updates, and passwords, who has time to read RT film from high pressure piping welds!

  • John B. Morgen

    What type of QA oversight is going on at the shipyards?

  • dan

    On a separate note, if memory served me correctly, USS Iwo Jima had steam issues with casualties.

  • improper supplier management operations by GD. this should have been caught when the parts were accepted by GD supplier quality….WAY before they made it to the sub.

  • Was the elbow nonconforming at receipt?

    How was the bad elbow and/or bad welding manifested?

    What was the formal or informal barrier that worked to reveal the harm and limit its longevity?

  • Was the right elbow ordered?

    Who has a link to the real story?