Unplanned repairs to the damaged attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN-22) could disrupt the backlog of planned ship maintenance in the public naval yards, Jay Stefany, acting assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told Congress on Thursday.
The Navy’s four public shipyards are struggling to keep up with the demand for ship and submarine repairs and adding the emergent repairs of the attack boat that struck an unknown object in the South China Sea could complicate ongoing maintenance.
“If we ended up doing [ the Connecticut work] in one of the public shipyards that would certainly cause perturbations in all the other work in the shipyards,” Stefany said before the House Armed Services Committee readiness subcommittee.
Stefany was responding to a question from HASC seapower and projection forces chair Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), who asked how the Navy would be able to feather in the fixes needed for Connecticut along with higher priority nuclear ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
“Right now, it’s in Guam, that’s public record, there is no dry dock in Guam, hopefully a sub tender can do the work, but that remains to be seen,” he said. “It just shows how … the world gets a vote and things change and unexpected incidents create more demand for repairs… The attack subs have always been the poor cousin in the public shipyards in terms of getting priority, but we know particularly a Seawolf-class submarine is extremely valuable in terms of the mission in that part of the world.”
Connecticut is one of three Seawolf-class submarines created at the tail-end of the Cold War as fast, deep-diving and heavily-armed blue water nuclear attack boats. The class was extensively modified to carry out some of the Navy’s most sensitive missions and are among the most lethal combatants in the service. The three submarines are based in Bremerton, Wash., and have undergone maintenance at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
To date, the Navy is still in the early stages of evaluating the damage an unknown object did to the submarine and what the repair regime could be. Naval Sea Systems Command, personnel from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and submarine tender USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) are currently in Guam working through an assessment and plan.
Two sources familiar with the initial damage assessment said the object struck the forward portion of the submarine and damaged the ballast tanks, forcing the submarine to make a week-long transit from the South China Sea to Guam. The nuclear reactor and propulsion system were undamaged.
Once the damage assessment and the initial repairs are completed, the Navy will then determine where more extensive repairs can be done.
In March, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that said the public yards could be in a submarine maintenance backlog for decades.
“CBO projects that the Navy will experience maintenance delays throughout the next 30 years because the demand for labor will exceed the shipyards’ supply of it in 25 of the next 30 years,” the March report reads.