U.S. Navy warships and submarines routinely undergo repairs and refits and this ongoing maintenance is why vessels can remain part of the fleet for several decades – and are often much older than the crews serving on the warships when the vessels are finally retired. However, the U.S. Navy is facing issues in addressing the problems on its warships.
Namely, it lacks the facilities to keep up with maintaining the fleet and the USS Boise (SSN 764), a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, is the latest example of a problem the Government Accountability Office (GAO) called out earlier this year. Simply put, the Navy has too few shipyards to keep up with the pace.
In the case of the USS Boise the submarine returned from its last patrol in February 2017 and has not been dive certified since. The boat has been awaiting maintenance at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia is the U.S. Navy’s largest and oldest industrial facility. Due to congestion and ongoing delays at Norfolk, the Navy then planned to have the submarine undergo maintenance at a private shipyard during Fiscal Year 2019.
However, the submarine had sat pier side for more than four years waiting for the maintenance to even begin.
Finally last week it was announced that the initial planning and work will begin on USS Boise—and the current running tab including advanced planning money that has already been awarded is around $355 million. Defense News reported that Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, where the boat has been in dry dock since earlier this year, will begin the overhaul process.
Another contract covering the full engineering overhaul is in negotiations, according to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). That work will include significant maintenance on the nuclear propulsion systems as well as additional modernization upgrades.
While the ball is finally rolling on getting the USS Boise ready for future deployments, it won’t likely be until at least May 2023—eight years after the submarine left the operational fleet—in which she is back in full service. That is significant to note as the overhaul was initially scheduled for twenty-five months and the Navy has warned that repairs could take even longer.
The submarine, which took part in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002 and fired some of the opening shots during Operation Iraqi Freedom when she launched a full load of Tomahawk missiles in support of the U.S.-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, has been in the spotlight not for her past combat deployments but because of the refit delays. The submarine’s delayed repair has been used amongst congressional leaders who have tried to address the backlog of work at the country’s naval shipyards.
One problem Defense News noted is that many private shipyards are simply not set up as maintenance shops but are organized as construction yards. This has further put the pressure on the Navy’s own shipyards.
The GAO report from last month said that the Navy has made progress on the workforce efforts at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, and Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. However, Norfolk was singled out as the lone yard that was still moving in the wrong direction, according to the GAO report.
That is why last week Vice Adm. Bill Galinis, the head of NAVSEA, relieved Capt. Kai Torkelson from command of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. He is being replaced by Capt. Dianna Wolfson, who will take command of the shipyard by early 2021.
In the meantime the work will continue on USS Boise, but it will still be years before she’s back in service.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: U.S. Navy.