Attrition: Expensive Mistakes

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August 10, 2009: Sloppy leadership by the captain, and the senior chief petty officer of a nuclear submarine earlier this year,  will apparently cost the U.S. Navy over $100 million for repairs. The American SSN (nuclear attack submarine), the USS Hartford (SSN 768), had a minor collision with an American amphibious ship earlier in the year. Now that it's in an American shipyard, and been thoroughly examined, it's been determined that the boat needs a hull patch, plus extensive repairs to the sail (that structure on top of the hull) and one of the retractable bow planes (a wing like device). It will take about a year to complete all the work. The captain and chief of the boat (senior NCO) were dismissed shortly after the collision.

The Hartford arrived back in Groton, Connecticut, from the Persian Gulf on May 21st. The Hartford took over a month to make the trip, because it has to do it all on the surface (SSNs move faster underwater, than on the surface.) This was because of the damage to the subs sail, after a collision last March 20th. Back then, a U.S. 24,000 ton amphibious ship (the USS New Orleans, LPD 18) collided with the submerged Hartford (a 7,000 ton Lost Angeles class boat), in the narrow Straits of Hormuz. Fifteen sailors aboard the sub were injured, while a fuel tank on the LPD was torn open, and 25,000 gallons of fuel oil got into the water. Both vessels returned to port under their own power. The accident happened at 1 AM, local time.

The Hartford rolled 85 degrees right after the collision, and substantial damage was done to the sail, including a leak. The Hartford went to a Persian Gulf shipyard for emergency repairs (a metal brace for the sail, which was twisted so that it leaned to the right). Temporary decking, railing and antennas were added to the topside of the sub, to make it easier for the surface ride home. Nuclear subs rarely spend this much time on the surface.

This is not the first time the Hartford has had an underwater misadventure. Six years ago the Hartford grounded itself while training off the Spanish coast. It was only after the sub was dry docked, that it was discovered how serious the damage was. The bottom half of the rudder was torn off, and the gouges in the hull were deeper than first thought. Although the sub was able to steam back to dry dock facilities at Groton, Connecticut, it had to do so at half speed, taking a month for a trip that normally is made in two weeks.

The cause of the accident was sloppiness by the six sailors in the navigation team. Too much time was allowed to elapse between position updates and the sub went aground while navigating shallow coastal waters. All six sailors in the "navigation party" were punished for dereliction of duty. The captain of the sub, and his boss (the commander of Submarine Squadron 22, based in Spain), were both relieved of duty. The implication here is that the training and discipline of the navigation party were not up to standard, and the ship's captain and the squadron commander are responsible for training and discipline. The damage to the Hartford required expensive repairs to the hull and kept the sub out of service for nearly a year. The same thing is happening again.

The Hartford repairs are more than what it cost to replace the front end of the SSN San Francisco, which ran into a sea mount four years ago and stove in its sonar space (the front of the boat). A front end from a retiring SSN was taken and fitted on the San Francisco, costing about $80 million.

 


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