Home » Budget Industry » Attack Sub Maintenance at Private Yards Running Behind; NAVSEA Hopes to See Timely Delivery if More Work Given to Them

Attack Sub Maintenance at Private Yards Running Behind; NAVSEA Hopes to See Timely Delivery if More Work Given to Them

USS Greeneville (SSN-772) sits atop blocks in Dry Dock #1 at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Feb. 21, 2001. The Los Angeles class attack submarine is dry-docked to assess the damage and perform necessary repairs following a Feb. 9 collision at sea with the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru off the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii. DoD Photo

CAPITOL HILL – Two attack submarines sent to private shipyards for routine maintenance availabilities are running a few months behind schedule. But the Navy hopes that using these new-construction yards for sub-maintenance on a regular basis will help them become reliable providers of on-time maintenance.

Attack submarines faced massive backlogs at the Navy’s four public shipyards, which prioritize ballistic-missile submarines and aircraft carriers above the SSNs. After several high-profile examples of SSNs sitting pierside for months and years while awaiting space at the yards to open up, the Navy opted to send USS Montpelier (SSN-765) to General Dynamics Electric Boat and USS Helena (SSN-725), USS Columbus (SSN-762) and USS Boise (SSN-764) to Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News Shipbuilding.

“The skill set required to do maintenance is different than it is for new construction, so when you give them repair work after they haven’t had repair work in a while, and you expect them to immediate perform like a Swiss watch, you find they’re challenged to do that. EB’s been challenged with Montpelier, we’re going to be late there, and Newport News is being challenged on Helena, we’re going to be a little late there,” Naval Sea Systems Command Commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore said today at a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing.
“Some of that’s because we haven’t built that proficiency up, and so the Navy’s having discussions that maybe it would be in our best interest to, on a regular basis, keep some submarine repair work in the private sector not only as a relief valve for the public yards as we level-load them, but also to establish that proficiency level so that when we do get ourselves into a crisis we’ve got a partner over there that’s performed that work on a regular basis that can do that going forward.”

Moore told USNI News after the hearing that Montpelier and Helena were set to undergo six-month maintenance availabilities, and both are running a few months behind. However, he noted that Newport News’ second sub to repair, Columbus, is running on time right now.

Asked if there was a particular type of work or portion of the maintenance that was causing the delays, Moore said, “it’s not a particular trade, I just think it’s a proficiency issue. There’s a significant difference between submarine construction and submarine repair, so yards don’t have that proficiency. Newport News, they have an opportunity here because they got three submarines, so they’re going to finish with Helena and then they’re going to go on to Columbus, which is on time, and then they’re going to get Boise. So I think you’ll see, like anything else, the proficiency will get better. … We probably ought to consider looking at more opportunity to, on a regular basis, give some opportunity to do [repair work] too to keep the proficiency up.”

Moore said during the hearing that NAVSEA was looking at the submarine and aircraft carrier maintenance workloads for Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021 right now, both at the public yards and at Electric Boat and Newport News. Moore told USNI News in a December 2017 interview that the private yards would be taking on more repair work, and he told the lawmakers today that a decision would be made soon regarding the specifics of to accomplish that. Moore said after the hearing that he’s working those details with Navy leadership now and expects a decision within the next six months.

Referencing the more than two years Boise spent just sitting at a pier before the Navy finally decided to send it to a private yard for its availability, Moore told the lawmakers, “I think we learned a pretty hard lesson on Boise, which was we waited too late in the game to make that decision. … We need to look two to three years or more out, because I have a pretty good sense of what workload I need and what I have in the public shipyards, and where I have workload peaks, instead of waiting until the last second to see if we can hang on to the work ourselves, I think it makes sense for us to go ahead and let’s provide ourselves some additional capacity by putting the work in the private sector.”


    PNSY was the “GOLD” standard for submarine repair. Other Public Shipyards had copied PNSY. The Budget Control Act caused the experience at the Public Yards to whither due to budget cuts. With the increase in SY personnel in the Public Yards, ithe “GOLD” Standard will soon return. For private SYs to be competetive in price and schedule, they will need to adopt the “GOLD” standard systems.

    • Stephen

      Sorry, the “Gold” standard was closed. Remnants were relocated to Puget Sound. The Public yards were in place to support a much larger submarine force; including Special Projects. Having suffered an Overhaul at EB; we observed that SupShips could not bring talent & expertise to bear until the 6-month to delivery occurred. The yard was focused on New Construction; leaving Overhaul to the 3rd or 4th string… Public yards were better prepared for DMP, Overhaul & Refueling Overhaul. Flexibility was key.

  • proudrino

    “Two attack submarines sent to private shipyards for routine maintenance availabilities are running a few months behind schedule. But the Navy hopes that using these new-construction yards for sub-maintenance on a regular basis will help them become reliable providers of on-time maintenance.”

    I only have one question. Was this delay because the private shipyards are inexperienced in the work planned into the cost estimates and production timelines or not? The above statement comes off as if delay was planned all along (not an unreasonable assumption) but I somehow don’t believe that any of this was part of the plan.

    • Ed L

      My brother works at one of the yards. They are working 6 days a week at times and during the Memorial Day weekend they worked that whole weekend. Told me that Saturday work is usually voluntary he does work every Saturday (no kids)

      • Stephen

        New construction begins with end-loading empty hull sections; a lot of the work is done on platforms to be loaded. Overhaul raises issues of access that were not evident during construction. Sliding down the hull, in a radiation field, to conduct maintenance or repair is a bit unsettling. Retrieval is at the option of your shipmate…

    • SDW

      The scheduling and costing models just didn’t allow for creating the specialized know-how to do intermediate maintenance. It really is similar to new construction house building and remodeling in that the scheduling and work breakdown has to be approached differently. The Navy and the private yards don’t deserve (all) the blame.

  • Western

    Psst. California could really, really use an influx of cash. San Francisco has a huge homeless problem. CalPERS is massively in debt, and cannot fund its pension obligations.
    Sit down with California and Bay Area lawmakers, and bring your checkbook.
    Buy back the Mare Island shipyard.
    Bring the USNS Mercy over to help examine and treat the homeless. Relocate the “artists” and startups to Moffett Field or other areas in San Francisco. Open another shipyard, put skilled tradesmen to work, and appease the gimme-generation with free stuff.

    • Stephen

      The impact of military facility closures in the San Francisco Bay area was decimating. AFBs were closed, the Army’s Presidio & Hunter’s Point, Treasure Island, Alameda, Mare Island & others… Close to 100k military personnel, untold number of civil servants, their families & all the businesses that supported that population; gone. Bases, a full day or two closer to Asia, tossed into the fiscal wastebasket. I’ll leave the solution of Society’s problems to those who know better. Crushing the Bay Area military was a short-sighted exercise in political revenge.

      • muzzleloader

        Not to mention the Oakland supply Depot and fuel depot.
        Someone joked that the Clinton administration wiped out more military assets in California than a Soviet boomer could ever have hoped to do.

        • Stephen

          The order went out from President George H W Bush. Opposition to Reagan/Bush policies brought the ax down on the Bay Area…

          • SDW

            The representatives of the prevailing party were more than happy to see all those icky war mongers leave and turn their swords into metal sculpture.

          • Stephen

            Bankrupt cities would probably disagree. It was jaw-dropping to watch 12000 jobs vanish in less than 3 years…

          • SDW

            You are right. The mayors, councils, chambers of commerce, and other down-in-the-trenches locals weren’t pleased when they began to understand the impact. They were late to the game. These were the beginning, heady days of the “Peace Dividend” and many in Congress couldn’t cut the budgets fast enough or deep enough. They, and their supporters outside of government, were celebrating the wholesale cuts in manpower levels (please excuse the obsolete term) that would send them into a panic if similar layoffs were happening to Ford, ConAgra, Exxon, and other big and iconic companies. Leading the charge were many/most of the more influential of the California delegation.

            LA city and county coveted the Long Beach NAVSTA’s real estate. Todd and NASSCO had just about folded up by then. El Toro was just prime real estate and the neighbors, over night, realized that they lived near a jet fighter base. In the Bay Area, Oakland was on the list for similar reasons. Treasure Island was a gem to be used for something else–though nobody knew what. Moffett Field was an expensive anachronism and when the Navy started to go there wasn’t enough reason to keep NASA and near-by AF activities going at the same level. Lockheed couldn’t pay Silicon Valley salaries and, basically, pulled up stakes. I’m one of hundreds of thousands (I think) that still mourn the loss of Hanger 1 but there was no one interested in maintaining it, no less fixing the seismic etc. issues. The region was also a hardship for the sailors because it was already too expensive to be assigned there. When the BRAC axe started its cutting, the SF Bay and LA area facilities fell below critical mass and the slate was wiped clean.

            Budget bulimia is a poor way to run anything and the DoD is no exception. Still, if a lot of it has to go then something’s got to give. The squeaky wheel may get the grease but it is also the first to be replaced.

        • Rocco

          This was due to the promise we kept with Russia to de nuclearize !!!

    • Wharf Rat

      I visited Mare Island twice in the last few years. There’s no way to open it again unless you completely tear it all down. Multiple buildings have signs on the doors – no entrance due to contamination. That said – the location is outstanding. Always has been. But where would the skilled workers come from if they did reopen? They’re all gone now.

    • Secundius

      The US Government is NEVER going to buy back Mare Island! Approximately 104-years of “Asbestos” contamination has made Mare Island a Toxic Nightmare that the US Government doesn’t to pay to Clean It Up. It’s cheaper to let Mare Island “Wither On the Vine” than to Rebuild at another location…

  • Duane

    Back in the 70s, SSNs (in PacFlt, at least) didn’t enter shipyards for routine maintenance availabilities short of a major overhaul. Instead, the Navy operated floating drydocks at the several SSN ports such as Ballast Point/San Diego, Pearl Harbor, and Guam. The availabilities were usually pretty short, just 3 to 4 weeks. In between the availabilities the sub tenders kept up with the lesser maintenance tasks whenever the boats were in port. That system worked well at a time when we had double the number of nuke subs that we have today.

    Maybe the Navy should consider replicating that system today. Having any nuke sub out of action for even six months, let alone years, waiting on maintenance is incredibly wasteful of not only the hulls but also the crews who man those hulls.

    • DaSaint

      You mean build new submarine tenders, outfitted with all the latest gear to service these SSNs, and have highly trained crews capable to performing the work like back in the 70’s and 80’s? And take all that new money away from the private sector? No, that would make too much sense.

      • Duane

        The work need not necessarily be performed by tenders; local shore based shops would work just as well. The point being that the Navy needs sufficient sub maintenance support located at the sub bases so that the boats aren’t forced to quieu up at remote shipyards, whether government owned or civilian, and then wait months or years for service.

        The fact that that is what has been going on reflects Congress negligently failing to properly fund US Navy operations ever since the end of the Cold War.

    • Mike Mulligan

      We had then twice as many subs as we have now.

      • Duane

        That’s what I wrote. We don’t need as much sustainment resource now as we did then, but we have cut far too deeply pod Cold War,.as evidenced by numerous SSNs being stuck to the dock for many months or years waiting for normal maintenance support. We never had that situation in the Cold War days, and we shoild never have that situation today which is a humongous waste of taxpayer dollars and of highly trained crews.

        • Mike Mulligan

          Did you read my earlier post with all those subs cemented to the piers at New London?

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    “But the Navy hopes that using these new-construction yards for sub-maintenance on a regular basis will help them become reliable providers of on-time maintenance.”

    Didn’t we recently experience 8 years of “hope & change”? How did that turn out? Hope is not a plan.

  • Mike Mulligan

    Maybe this one will work?

    I remember a time when a Navy crisis like this (massive maintenance backlog) was all over the pages of the NYTs explaining in detail and in real time how many ships were down and degraded. We had a full throated open discussion of the conditions and the politicians were forced to talk about it. What we know about the Navy, it is 100 times worst than what they disclosed to protect the politicians and the defense industry. This is really crazy stuff, it is happening identically over and over without change. What are the lessens learned out of the 7th fleet? It looking like these problems jumps from the 7th fleet, to navy air, to the submarine fleet and on and on. I know for a fact todays submarines are extremely vulnerable to fires.
    We couldn’t imagine two ships colliding within vey shot time and killing too many sailors because the outsiders and the papers never cared about the condition. The conditions weren’t vetted out peoples in real time. So how do we imagine today the worst possible outcome with the emergent maintenance emergency in the Sub fleet? I think it will be a fire conflagration. With the recent evidence, Navy body parts spewed on the ground all over the place and crushed and drowned in a assortment Navy platforms…there is no trust in the Navy and Department of Defense. How do I know my country will protect our girls and boys or boys and girls in the military??? Our beloved children.
    Mike Mulligan
    [email protected]

  • Mike Mulligan

    Just saying, I am being individually moderated. Truth sucks doesn’t it?

  • Kim Chul Soo

    This makes no sense. The private yards can’t keep up with the current workload but will get right on target if given more work?