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Navy Evaluating Possible Columbia-class Sub Delays Caused by Missile Tube Weld Issues

General Dynamics Electric Boat and the Navy are evaluating the potential of missile tube welding issues identified by a subcontractor to delay construction of the first Columbia-class submarines, the next block of Virginia-class submarines and for the British Dreadnought-class submarines.

The Navy and Electric Boat teams are working to understand the scope of the problem and determine remediation for the identified issues, said a statement issued by NAVSEA. The missile tubes have not yet been installed on any submarine. The Columbia-class program is currently on pace to cost about $7.2 billion per hull. The Virginia-class Block V is on pace to cost about $3.2 billion per hull, according to the Navy.

An Electric Boat subcontractor — BWX Technologies — identified problems with welded components for missile tubes destined for the new submarines, Rex Geveden, BWX chief executive said on a Tuesday conference call with Wall Street analysts. BWX is one of three vendor making the missile tubes for the Common Missile Compartment. His team is working closely with the Navy and Electric Boat teams.

“It’s fundamentally an inspection technique issue,” Geveden said. “There’s a problem with inspection technique which means some welding indications were not caught in the inspection, so I don’t view it as a welding quality issue, I view it as an inspection technique issue. So because of that we’ll have to go back and reinspect and rework some of those welds.”

Defense News first reported the story on Tuesday.

The full extent of the inspection issue was still being evaluated, so Geveden said he did not have an estimate to how much reworking the welds would cost BWX. The problem, he added, is not with the welds, but rather the inspection process. The company has suspended its missile tube welding until the inspection issue is fixed.

“In the welding process we normally inspect the welds periodically and make weld repairs and the inspection technique didn’t detect those issues, so there will be repair work that has to be done,” Geveden.

Lynchburg, Va. —based BWX has a long history providing propulsion and other components to the Navy. As a segment of Babcock & Wilcox Co., BWX made components for the Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) and for the Nimitz-class carriers. In 2015, Babcock & Wilcox spun off its government contracting business to create BWX, according to the company’s history.

“The Navy purposely planned for early construction of the Common Missile Compartment including missile tubes and first article quad pack, to mitigate risks such as these, and construction start for Columbia remains on schedule in FY2021. The Navy is working closely with the UK to evaluate impacts to Dreadnought,” read the NAVSEA statement.

As for what the missile tube issue means for BWX’s, Geveden said it was too early to tell exactly what the rework would mean for its earnings, and the Navy’s next missile tube contract award was not scheduled to occur until early in 2019.

“We don’t see this having a material impact on this area of the business,” Geveden said.

The full statement issued by NAVSEA follows:

BWX Technologies, Inc. (BWXT), a subcontractor to General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB), identified a welding issue on subcontracted missile tubes that have been delivered to GDEB for use in the U.S. Columbia and UK Dreadnought SSBN programs and payload tubes being manufactured for the Virginia-class SSN program.

The issue concerned non-destructive testing (NDT) affecting BWXT missile tubes and payload tubes. The Navy/GDEB team is working to bound the scope of the problem and engineering assessments are ongoing to assess and determine remediation for the identified issues. BWXT is one of three vendors providing missile tubes for the Columbia/Dreadnought programs and one of two vendors for the Virginia program. All BWXT welding requiring volumetric inspection has been halted until the investigation is complete. Initial reports indicate that the other vendors do not have the same issue, and they continue to produce missile and payload tubes.

Some of the affected BWXT missile tubes have been delivered to the builder’s yard and are in various stages of outfitting but have not been installed on any submarines. The Navy is closely overseeing GDEB’s efforts to define, scope, and mitigate any potential impact to the schedule of all programs. The Navy is working aggressively with the shipbuilder to mitigate any resulting schedule impacts associated with resolution of this issue, and working with the UK to ensure commitments made under the Polaris sales agreement are met.

The U.S. Navy and the submarine force have a long tradition of safety and quality and will take the time necessary to ensure Columbia, Virginia and components for the UK Dreadnought are constructed to the highest standards. Safety is central to the culture of our entire Navy submarine community, including designers, builders, maintainers, and operators. The SUBSAFE program infuses the submarine Navy with safety requirements of uniformity, clarity, focus, and accountability. The Navy purposely planned for early construction of the Common Missile Compartment including missile tubes and first article quad pack, to mitigate risks such as these, and construction start for Columbia remains on schedule in FY2021. The Navy is working closely with the UK to evaluate impacts to Dreadnought.

The Navy has not formally accepted delivery of the missile tubes, as they will ultimately be accepted prior to shipment to the UK or at USS Columbia delivery.

The Navy is assessing the potential impact to schedules for the Virginia-class submarines with the Virginia Payload Module (SSN 803 and future ships, beginning in Block V).

BWXT is under contract with GDEB for 26 missile tubes and three Virginia Payload Module (VPM) payload tubes, which are in various stages of completion.

Seven of the affected BWXT missile tubes have been delivered to the builder’s yard and are in various stages of outfitting prior to installing the tubes into the submarine hull. Other missile tubes in progress at BWXT (five total) are also in question. The Virginia Payload Tubes are in the manufacturing process at BWXT. The Navy and GDEB are currently in the process of determining next steps (further inspections, re-work/replacement, etc.).

Impacts to the delivery of missile tubes to the UK will be assessed upon completion of GDEB’s efforts to define and scope next steps.

 

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Glad they caught it now!

  • DaSaint

    Clearly this first batch was for the UK Dreadnought class SSBNs. But to say it isn’t a welding issue, but an inspection issue is a bit misleading. If the welds were good, there would be no issue. The welds were not good, and those bad welds were not caught in time to be redone prior to delivery.

    • Leatherstocking

      Yup, it’s a weld issue. Their inspection process was inadequate but as you point out, weld repairs are needed so welds did not meet requirements. Bad welds, didn’t pick it up with in-process inspection so two layers of problems.

    • Duane

      It wasn’t just product for the Brits, also for the Colombia too, and also launch tubes for Virginias.

      The problem is not that welds are sometimes bad, it is that the subcontractor’s QC testing did not function correctly, as now reported. The contractor did not just mess up one tube, it was about 70% of their production run that was improperly shipped to the customer without validated weld testing data.

      THAT is a huge systemic problem, not a physical random construction defect easily spotted and corrected … and should never, ever happen in any US Navy ship building program.

      This goes to the customer’s confidence in every product fabricated by this particular subcontractor, and also bespeaks lack of confidence in the prime contractor’s oversight of their subs.

      This is correctible, obviously, but this is not the kind if performance the Navy is entitled to get from a mature submarine construction program. The Colombia may still be a developmental program, but ensuring the performance of ship safety welded products is as old as the entire USN submarine program.

      • DaSaint

        No, re-read the article. There are 3 vendors total. This one does not do the VPM. The units produced are for the Brits primarily due to the schedule.

        And this is a mature vendor. Shouldn’t happen.

        • Duane

          Read it again: The post specifically says in two different paragraphs that the subcontractor (BWXT) reported issues on 3 VPM tubes they are building for the Virginias, and that the Navy is evaluating schedule on the Virginias as a result.

      • vetww2

        That’s a lot of words to say we are behind the times.

    • Curtis Conway

      Hey DaSaint, was my comment that bad? The comment was held.

      • DaSaint

        Curtis, you’re a bad boy! You’re getting detention!

        • Curtis Conway

          So you read it? Does BWX make parts for the Coney Island Ferry?

          • publius_maximus_III

            I did, before it was scrubbed. Not a thing wrong with it that I saw.

            Maybe some objectionable words flagged it automatically? Should still be available in your Disqus if you click on your name. Try a cut and paste with any suspect words removed.

          • Curtis Conway

            Perhaps is was the “The slop in the schedule is gone. The nation’s future ‘Nuclear Deterrent Force’ capability hangs in the balance, and we hear excuses like provided by BWX? “

          • Curtis Conway

            Maybe it was the “Quality is never an accident, requires a deliberate and disciplined technique, and must be executed with consistency. What we are dealing with here is a fundamental integrity issue, and a basic and fundamental quality issue. Either you are building a qualified part, or not. This is not a commercial contract going on a train, or even a shore based nuclear power plant.”

          • DaSaint

            nothing offensive there!

          • Curtis Conway

            ‘The company has suspended its missile tube welding until the inspection issue is fixed’??? NO. CORRECT THE PROCESS. ADD THE ADDITIONAL X-RAYS, AND RE-CERTIFY YOUR WELDERS/WELDING TECHNIQUE/WELDING EQUIPMENT. We need not have the ‘faint of heart’ in the nuclear submarine building business.

          • Curtis Conway

            If BWX has to ‘STOP PRODUCTION’ to fix their little problem, I advise STOPPING THEIR CONTRACT, because they cannot rise to the challenge of meeting the standards of construction required for Nuclear Submarines.

          • Curtis Conway

            It has to be this one: I know BWX is not building the hull. However, let us not begin the trip down the slippery slope, and that is EXACTLY what has happened here. When dealing with risks associated with the construction that must withstand pressure like a submarine at depth, the 100% X-ray requirement MEANS EXACTLY THAT! Problems CANNOT exist in this environment in which this submarine will operate, so mistakes or asking for forgiveness is NOT IN THIS math so you can save money, or make more profit on this process. The construction simply must have inherent, verified and certified integrity. So much for integrity in the process of ‘this vendor’, and their ability to provide verified and certified parts. These parts MUST work every time! If BWX cannot rise to the standard (100% x-ray on all welds) then take them off the list.

          • DaSaint

            No, didn’t see it to read it. Dunno.

          • Curtis Conway

            Well, it’s all pretty much listed below para by para, not necessarily in the same order. Message is the same. Accountability is in journalism too.

    • NavySubNuke

      First article quad pack is not for UK…. but yes — some of these are definitely for the UK since they lack the ability to manufacture things like this on their own any more.
      It will be interesting to see how much rework these actually require.
      The good thing is that there doesn’t appear to be any cover up or other deliberate issues (unlike the problems with some Virginia components last year where the contractor was not quite so honest). They have time to correct the process and move forward!

    • vetww2

      We are so far behind the Russians, in welding it is ridicuulous. We should be EB welding all appropriate sub parts, I suggest you read “Modern Joining Methods” by Mel Schwartz, who is a world famous expert. So much so that the Russkies invited him, years ago to comment on their travelling vacuum electron beam welding technique after a world wide conference on welding.
      To be more specific:
      1. In 1966, American Vector Corp, Electron Beam Welded 30 sets of landing
      gears for the Lockheed C5As. Gears were made of Crucible Corp. Tricent
      steel, (E=300,000), A lot more difficult material than the HY 180, I believe
      the missile tubes are made of, (Correct me if I am wrong)
      2. Ihe welded tubes of the gear had 2″ walls.
      3. In all these years there has NEVER been a single gear failure despite landings in 3″ stubble fields.
      4. The Russians use this method on all “ALPHA” titanium subs, and most
      mechanical parts of their other subs.
      5. Another welding area that we are behind in, particularly applicable to plate
      welding is ‘FRICTION STIR”. BUT I guess the irrelevant palaver is more
      interesting than solving the REAL problem. stodgy thinking,
      COMMENTS?

  • publius_maximus_III

    Could it be the two successful suppliers used RT to inspect and repair the difficult-to-inspect welds, while the third (BWXT) used a faster method, say UT or ET, incapable of adequate detection of the volume tested? If that is the case, seems like the USN should have specified exactly what production inspection techniques were to be used and where. Glad they caught it, just sorry it was so far down the pipeline.

    • Curtis Conway

      If one has to explain the inspection requirements, and qualified techniques for doing those inspection that are called out in the standard, then the contractor is not qualified to do the work.

      • publius_maximus_III

        “Any one detail, followed through to its source, will usually reveal the general state of readiness of the whole organization.”

        Hyman Rickover

        • Curtis Conway

          I’m glad I didn’t have an interview. He would have EATEN Geveden alive, or he would have been in the closet for a week while he contemplated his error.

          • publius_maximus_III

            I think it was somewhere in Zumwalt’s biography I read, where he described being interviewed by the guy once. Apparently, Rickover kept him waiting in his office for an interview at least an hour while he just walked the halls killing time, to put him on the defensive so the Admiral could tell more about him.

          • Curtis Conway

            Admiral Hyman G. Rickover was a student of human nature. He knew exactly what kind of officers he wanted on his boats in an environment where mistakes simply cannot be made. Humility, and a reliable, accountable, human who was sacrificial in nature, was what he was looking for. Men of conscience, and detail. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder does not exist in that environment for it is the Order of the Day. I had the pleasure to serve with numerous officers who were interviewed. I also worked with an officer no longer in the Navy who was his Aide at the end of the admiral’s career. When at Aegis Moorestown, NJ I had the pleasure of training the Aegis system to an Ensign who was the last interviewee that the admiral ever gave. That was an interesting exercise . . . teaching a nuclear submariner about the Aegis Combat System. We had a blast. Good kid.

          • DaSaint

            Sounds like a good title for a book on Rickover or the Aegis system: ‘The Last Ensign’.

            Please send my residuals.

          • vetww2

            Any book about Aegis should be entitled, “The MAN Who Gave Up Promotions to Make the Navy Better, RADM Wayne Meyer.”

          • Duane

            Mistakes are made all the time by all human beings. Rickover did not demand impossible, mistake free performance from his people. Instead he demanded and got excellent cross training from all nuclear qualified sailors, regardless of rank or officer vs. enlisted. All members of the team were expected to check each other and call each other out as necessary for the safety of the ship. And everybody was expected at all times to follow the book – the Reactor Plant Manual – at all times, even during emergencies, where the first response was always to break out the RPM, and every EEOW and operator must always announce clearly announce every step being taken so that all others are aware, and can and will speak out and correct any and all errors.

            Rickover fully expected humans to eff up .. and made damned sure there are always checks and balances in place to identify and correct errors when they are unevitably made. Sub COs and Engineering Officers are never afraid to correct a EEOW in front of the engineers, or to support an enlisted engineering operator catching an EEOW in a screw up.

            All of that nuclear culture, based on everyone being well trained and assertive regardless of rank, is of course totally foreign to the non-nuke Navy.

          • Curtis Conway

            All good team concepts . . . and used in OTHER Teams too!

          • vetww2

            I remember, when Rickover was in 3EO8 of NC2 and My office was 5EO8 NC2, the spats that i had with him over his R&D, which I controlled, until we finally got his money seperated from the rest of NAVSEA. Before that, since his $$$ were over 50% of the total, and he (with 4 STARS) directeed his organizational boss, COMNAVSEA (with 3 stars), that he would not stand for any cuts, when a cut was directed. the rest of NAVSEA had to take a double cut. We got on better after the change, But he still tried to sneak in some of his jobs into my area. Tough, brilliant, good man, but once he was annointed by Congress, very hard to deal with.

          • Curtis Conway

            Thank G-d for sending him when He did!

        • donny1040

          Yes, I remember him well. He was the only person alive who could have overseen the Naval Nuclear Program with such perfection and detail. I have one of his aluminum “RESPONSIBILITY” statements in a picture frame on a wall in my office, I look at it often. I saved him from going overboard one evening upon returning from a 688 ALPHA Trial. It was dark, topside was wet and slippery and a cold wind was buffeting him as he climbed unescorted out of the FWD hatch. Safety lines were not strung and no topside watch was stationed as he walked along the Port side of the sail. I was the only one available and kept him from slipping overboard twice.
          “Rickover’s Last Ride” was on another of my 688 ALPHA Trials. I believe the details are still classified. I am positive several “firsts” and “lasts” were performed, witnessed only by Ships Force, my test crew and several Angels.
          The total good that he did for our country and world stability far outweigh the occasional outbursts that some of us were privy to. Fair winds and following seas, Hyman.

      • publius_maximus_III

        If you RT a weld looking for a crack, and the direction of inspection is perpendicular to the plane of the crack, you won’t see it. There will not be enough change in density to cause sufficient differences in radiation transmission between the source and the film.

        Similarly, if you UT a weld looking for a crack, and the direction of inspection is parallel to the crack, you won’t see it. The sound will just go right past it on either side as though it was solid metal.

        • Curtis Conway

          We weld in our shop. High Pressure welds for drilling mud manifolds (thousands of lbs certified). They are welded by robot, under the observation of a qualified welder. They are 100% certified. These BWX jokers are having way too much fun, and not earning their pay on the Cert side. If it’s not inspected, it’s a ???!

          • DaSaint

            Bingo!

  • Alex Andrite

    “Rework”. That is a demon awaiting another time to ravage and destroy.

  • vetww2

    To be slightly facetious, the Russians have long since gone to travelibg vacuum Electron Beam welding. Requires more skill, more process control, Virtually no failures. They even gave a paper on it severel years ago. Our antique shipyards persist in using the old,”Tried and True” methods. Any uo-to-date experts out there?

    • vetww2

      I guess USNI is more interested in blather, these days, than FACTS.
      1. In 1966, American Vector Corp, Electron Beam Welded 30 sets of landing gears for the Lockheed C5As. Gears were made of Crucible Corp. Tricent steel, (E=300,000), A lot more difficult material than the HY 180, I believe the missile tubes are made of, (Correct me if I am wrong)
      2. Welded tubes had 2″ walls.
      3. In all these years there has NEVER been a single failure despite landings in 3″ stubble fields.
      4. The Russians use this method on all “ALPHA” titanium subs, and most mechanical parts of their other subs

  • vetww2

    For those people who criticized my comment on poorness of USA welding techniques, you might try reading the September issue of Maritime Reporter for an update. Even that artcle does not reflect the latest advances in welding methods, but it does cover two of the methods that I stated. to the editors I suugest you read it too and move my comments up to where they just might be of help tp the neanderthals.