Home » Budget Industry » ‘Substantial’ Columbia-class Missile Tube Weld Fix Will Cost $27 Million, Take a Year


‘Substantial’ Columbia-class Missile Tube Weld Fix Will Cost $27 Million, Take a Year

Workers stand pose for a photo in the four-tube “quad-pack” built for the U.S. Ohio Replacement-class and U.K. Successor-class. General Dynamics Electric Boat Photo via US Navy

A problem with Columbia-class submarine missile tube welds is more serious than initially thought, causing the contractor responsible to set aside $27 million to cover repair work that is expected to take nearly a year.

BWX Technologies, the sub-contractor building missile tubes for Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat, discovered the welding problems over the summer. Electric Boat had not yet installed the tubes in submarine hulls, Rex Geveden, chief executive of BWX Technologies, said while speaking with Wall Street analysts during a Wednesday morning conference call. The fixes might not be finished until the summer of 2019.

“Inspection efforts and rework effort was more substantial than previously believed,” Geveden said. “Our plans call for completing all the repairs by the middle of next year. In terms of any delays, the U.S. boats will not be affected by the missile tube delay.”

The missile tubes will be used on both U.S. and U.K. submarines.

The company finished the quarter with revenues of $426 million compared to revenues of $419 million a year ago. Profits for the quarter were $77.9 million, compared to $46.6 million reported a year ago, according to a BWX earnings statement.

BWX has made nuclear submarine components since the Navy first started using nuclear propulsion. Most of BWX’s work for the Navy involves building and fueling reactors used on both the Columbia-class and Virginia-class attack subs, as well as on the new Ford-class aircraft carrier. Missile tube production represents about 3 percent of BWX’s Navy business, Geveden said.

An undated artist’s rendering of the planned Columbia-class submarine. Naval Sea Systems Command Image

The 12-hull Columbia-class program is estimated to cost $122.3 billion. The Navy has awarded contracts to Electric Boat to purchase long-lead materials, including the missile tubes from BWX and two other sub-contractors, in anticipation of starting production. Electric Boat expects a contract to build the first Columbia-class submarine in late 2019, General Dynamics officials said during a recent conference call discussing third quarter financial results with Wall Street analysts.

After identifying the missile tube welding problems, BWX halted production while inspectors from the company, Electric Boat and the Navy determined the cause and developed a solution. The process involved the use of ultrasonic equipment to check very long, complex welds, Geveden explained. The welds are 100 inches long, and Geveden said the original technique for inspecting the welds did not catch all the quality issues along that lengthy weld that the Navy’s ultrasonic checks did.

“Our weld techniques were not adequate for those large metric welds. So we’re changing our technique,” Geveden said.

BWX revamped its weld inspection process and retrained its welders. The welding issue was limited strictly to BWX’s missile tube production, and Geveden stressed there was no “spillover” affecting manufacturing in the company’s much larger reactors business.

During the next round of submarine contract awards, Geveden is confident BWX will be considered. The Navy is buying 12 Columbia-class submarines but is now also expected to purchase five post-Columbia-class subs, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Navy’s long-term shipbuilding plan. The Columbia-class design is likely to be the base design of these five subs, which would be akin to a guided-missile submarines (SSGN), according to the CBO.

“We are dead certain this problem is restricted to this product line, and restricted to this particular weld on this particular product line,” Geveden said of the missile tube welds.

  • Secundius

    “Huntington-Ingalls gets “Columbia” class Submarine Contract”…

    ( https : // www . marinelink . com / news / huntington – ingalls – gets – columbiaclass – sub – 443604 )

    • Michael Lopez

      Huntington-Ingalls is a SUBCONTRACTOR to Electric Boat on the Colombia class SSBN. Final assembly will occur at the EB Shipyard in Groton, CT.

      • Secundius

        Oh thank you! I believe “Jon Tessler” mentioned the same thing about 3-hours ago. Maybe you missed his comment…

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Wow! I have lived long enough to see the day when aircraft carriers cost over $13 billion, and subs cost over $10 billion apiece.

    I’m glad they have discovered a potentially serious problem at this point in these subs development. Best to be able to make repairs while everything is in a component form.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      I got the reply below from Duane. His comment is not appearing on these boards right now. But I will respond…

      From Duane: “Closer to $6-7B each for this particular sub.”

      Well, the article says this: “The 12-hull Columbia-class program is estimated to cost $122.3 billion.”

      While things like specialized equipment and infrastructure are included in that cost (which is a preliminary estimate. We know that new, advanced programs rarely stay within the preliminary and/or original estimates. Witness the LCS, the Zumwalt, the Ford, etc.), the costs apply to the entire PROGRAM. At 6 to 7 billion dollars a copy (which comes out to 72 to 84 billion dollars for 12 subs, IF those prices can become a reality!), that other 38 to 50 plus billion dollars is REAL, and must be accounted for. Not applying it to the costs of the ships themselves is merely a book keeping exercise.

  • jjm

    Wasn’t that drydock failure a General Dynamics/subcontractor issue also? Coincidence.

  • El_Sid

    Interesting emphasis “the U.S. boats will not be affected by the missile tube delay” – but the first tubes were destined for Dreadnought.

    • DaSaint

      BINGO!

    • NavySubNuke

      Reposting since Duane flagged for review:
      Not entirely true — first 5 tubes were for US, 1 for SWS ashore in Florida and 4 for the initial quad back for COLUMBIA. It is being built early with R&D dollars for exactly this reason — to find the problems and correct them while there is still time to not screw up the schedule.

  • Ed L

    BWX needs to be financially responsible for the screwup with the missile tube welds

    • RedStatePatriot

      Reading is fundamental….

  • Sam C. Masarachia

    Somehow, one would think, after over a 1/2 century of building “boomers”, knowledge about welding missile tubes would have been learned!

    • Secundius

      I doubt that many if any members of the Board of Directors know anything about Welding and/or really care…

    • NEC338x

      The BWX CEO says it was an inspection problem and not a welding problem. That long welds (100″) are very difficult to inspect. Since he really was a rocket scientist (fmr Chief Eng at NASA), I’m going to assume that this was the story that it was agreed upon to promote and that he probably doesn’t believe it. Its a welding problem AND an inspection technology problem AND and inspector problem, IMO.

    • Welders retire. If you don’t keep performing the work, you will eventually lose the skill. You need to have apprenticeship programs in operation while the master welders are still on the job – a detail to which industry has paid scant attention (more concern for the bottom line).

      • Secundius

        There are “Apprenticeship Programs”! Just like with Plumbers, Engine Mechanics, Electricians, etc…

        • I remember that the Carter Administration established an “Apprenticeship Program” with EB in the early ’80s. The goal of the program was to provide “training” for welfare clients in Hartford. I remember how that successful that program was – perhaps 21st century apprenticeship programs have evolved past that. They named a submarine after Jimmy anyway.

          • Secundius

            Apprenticeship Programs for “Welders” can be requested through and Local Iron Workers Union throughout the United States. Community Colleges have Welding Programs and classes, to help and guide any wouldbe “Apprentice” in a carrier as a Professional Welder. What they wont do is Hold Your Hand and Mollycoddle anyone through the program that doesn’t have the Skill Set to try…

      • NavySubNuke

        Exactly. And contrary to what others who have no idea what they are talking about would claim this is a very different job than welding even the pressure hull of the submarine.

        • Secundius

          Naval requirements for a Skilled Welder is 7-years (i.e. 14,000-hours) as a Master Journeyman Welder. An “Apprentice Welder” requires a Minimum of 6,000-hours (i.e. 3-years) to 8,000-hours (i.e. 4-years), before even becoming eligible to be a “Journeyman”…

  • RunningBear

    “Missile tube production represents about 3 percent of BWX’s Navy business..”….so have they “ever” produced missile tubes or is this a minor part of the larger overall contract?

    “causing the contractor responsible to set aside $27 million to cover repair work that is expected to take nearly a year.”, “The welds? (how many??) are 100 inches (8.3′) long”

    “the original technique for inspecting the welds did not catch all the quality issues along that lengthy weld that the Navy’s ultrasonic checks did.” Why did they wait to inspect this for a 12 month repair time estimate?

    This doesn’t bode well, this early in this program!
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

    • Secundius

      BWX Technologies (i.e. Babcock & Wilcox International Technologies) has been in business making Military Equipment since 1867! So yeah they do have a Modicum of knowledge in making Missile Parts…

      • RunningBear

        “the original technique for inspecting the welds did not catch all the
        quality issues along that lengthy weld that the Navy’s ultrasonic checks did.”

        ….no problem, repair and replace at the maker’s expense in the 3% of their business.

        I’m curious as how the Brits are to respond to “their” quad-tubes being butchered??

        IMHO
        Fly Navy
        🙂

  • E1 Kabong

    Well said.

    Most folks don’t understand how complex and demanding some manufacturing can be.

    Some of the welders I’ve seen work, are part artist, part tradesman to pull off what they do.

    • Curtis Conway

      Metallurgy is tough. One can’t destroy the integrity of the material, while making it one usings some plasma method. More of an artform than a technology, and both are needed to make it work.

      • vetww2

        Sorry, Curtiss, but your “ART” starement is blatently false. I have posted my experiences with my former avanced manufacturing technology cmpany, American Vector Corp. with advanced welding tecnnologies. They might be of interest to you.

        • Curtis Conway

          Well, if you ever saw me weld (I’m NOT a welder) it would Definitely be “ART”.

          • Secundius

            Actually it pretty much is an “ART”, which Few People actually bother to learn. I started my apprenticeship in 1967, when my local Community College first offered it. Through the Iron Workers Union in my area. Of the ~20 in my class, ~7 were looking for a career as actual Welders. The others were learning the course for Fast Tracking in “Blacksmithing” and “Glass Works” which have similar applications, but are rather lacks in certification which True Welders require for Industrial Welding…

    • vetww2

      I suggest that you read the September, 2018 edition of the Maritime Reporter. It parallels a post that I made a year ago.

      • Oskar

        I suggest you actually go work in a welding shop.

        Better yet, go talk to some welders.
        Specifically, those who can weld aluminum, titanium, stainless steel, or work on submarines.

  • James Obrasky

    Ben,
    Since the Columbia Missile Tubes have a welding problem, the Virginia Payload Module Tube may have one as well. The VPM Tube is the same diameter and 75% the length of the Columbia’s.

  • Eyes open

    One has to ask that if they have been making these tubes since the inception of the program and those tubes were acceptable, what changes did they make to the manufacturing process that now makes them unacceptable?

  • Sam C. Masarachia

    I hear what you are saying; however, welding on submarines has still been going on during the past 25 years, and, I should expect, improvements in welding techniques and inspection techniques. That is the gist of my comment.

    • Oskar

      “….welding on submarines has still been going on during the past 25 years…”

      WELDERS retire.

  • Sam C. Masarachia

    Thanks.

    • NavySubNuke

      Always happy to help – while my posts last that is. Poor little Duane likes to flag them because I have a habit of pointing out he has no idea what he is talking about and it wounds his pride.

  • MaskOfZero

    Well BWX, missile tubes may only be 3% of your business, but those missile tubes are 100% of the reason for the lengthy delay of the Columbia class boomer.

    Normally, I am very sympathetic with bleeding edge tech, and the multitude of issues which can crop up–unforeseen.

    But I have been hearing about these missile tubes for years, and this is very late in the game for such a defect which delays the crucial replacement to the third leg of the nuclear triad.

    For this to happen at this stage–someone screwed up.

    • Secundius

      “Pre Commissioning Unit”! Until a Naval Ship is Officially Commissioned (i.e. USS), it wears the prefix of PCU (i.e. Pre Commissioning Unit). Which means that IF “ANY” problems occur the Shipbuilder is responsible for the Repair (i.e. Eating Up Profits). Once the “USS” is slapped in front of the Ships Name, it becomes the problem of the US Navy and the US Government (i.e. the US Taxpayer)…

  • vetww2

    I have posted before, that the US is behind in welding technology. With MIG, TIG and sumerged arc we are right up there, but with advanced types of high strength, low defect, welding techniques, such as traveling vacuum, electron beam, friction stir and chamber EB, we are well behind the leading technology. I refer all to this month’s Marine Technoogy magazine or Mel Schwartz’s,”Modern Joining Methods” Our welders are nonpariel in there skill. The fault comes in the technique. I realize that the naysayers may descend on me like chickens on a spilled bag of corn, but truth is truth, and it will out.

    On submarine construction, whatever happened to the promise made to OP03 and COMNANSEA, 30 years ago, that we would have, in 5 to 10 years, Ti sub designs, like Russia’s Alpha class?

    This old R&D goat has a long, accurate memory, but at 91, it may not be for too much longer.

    • NavySubNuke

      Oh God not, not Titanium subs. You know those hulls fail if you surface and dive too often right? I mean our steel hulls will fail eventually too but we don’t really have to keep too close of an eye on them because they are a lot less prone to fatigue based failures.
      Never mind the cost of Titanium hulls vs. steel. I’m pretty sure even Czar Vlad the Bare-Chested’s Navy isn’t making Titanium hulls anymore since they cost so much.

      • vetww2

        FUNNY! I wish that it was so BUT, after 35+ years, the ALPHAs are still. fully operational. Dive and suface. No corrosion or welding faults, The Ti problem B.S. is just the product of incompetant people. It’s just too bad baloney is easily eaten, Chack out the latest copy of Maritime Reporter. ‘
        35 years ago, as I reported before, the Navy’s material R&D people lauded Ti to COMNAVSEA, but said it would take 15 years for us to start. It was IN THE PLAN. However it has been a looong 15 years.

        • Oskar

          Hilarious!!!!

          “….after 35+ years, the ALPHAs are still. fully operational.”?

          Yeah, NO.

          ALL seven subs were decommissioned long ago.

          The last was K-123 in 1996.
          TWENTY TWO years ago.

          Go read the CIA report on them.

  • NavySubNuke

    Lol. It’s only a lie of it isnt happening. He actually admitted to flagging my posts. Watch, I’ll show you how it works.

    • NavySubNuke

      See, now your post is hidden. If I had flagged it first without replying to it – it would be gone entirely.
      Annoying isnt it?

    • Mk-Ultra

      11 days later and silence… Go figure

      • NavySubNuke

        What?

      • Secundius

        I notice yours was too, until i Clicked it to bring up the comment. Understand, this is how “USNI News” WORKS. It’s either “Hidden” by USNI or “Redacted” by USNI. Unfortunately the Redacted Ones CAN’T be Restored…

  • Oskar

    Lead by example.

    STOP trolling.

    If you are really interested, you might read my comments and learn something.