Undersea Warfare The Official Magazine of the U.S. Submarine Force Spring 2004 U.S. Submarines... Because Stealth Matters Cover USW Magazine Spring 2004
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Near the end of an unusually long refit necessitated by major repairs to her fairwater planes, USS Kentucky (SSBN-737) has her starboard plane reinstalled at IMF Bangor. Accomplished while the ship was afloat, this delicate evolution required skillful coordination among crane operators, riggers, and the entire waterfront crew.
After spending more than nine weeks in an unusually complex refit, USS Kentucky (SSBN-737) slipped confidently into the open waters of Hood Canal on 19 April in preparation for her next patrol. With 100,000 production man-hours executed in the completion of more than 1,000 individual jobs, her refit was a first-ever demonstration of a new surge maintenance capability in the Pacific Northwest.
A Quiet Kentucky Returns to Patrol

The Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility (IMF) at Naval Submarine Base, Bangor, knew early-on that the normal refit period of four weeks would be insufficient to perform all the repairs and refurbishments needed by Kentucky. The ship had previously reported noise in the fairwater planes while underway and had asked the IMF to consider what repair options might be available when she returned from patrol.

Because the ship was already operating outside of her fairwater plane specifications on a temporary waiver, and since one of the planes appeared to be out of alignment, it was determined that both planes would have to be removed for inspection and repair. Although TRIDENT Refit Facility (TRF) Kings Bay had already performed temporary repairs on the stock and hubs for Kentucky ’s fairwater planes while she was homeported on the East Coast, both the Fleet and the IMF decided that it was time to examine alternatives for a permanent fix.

When the ship docked on 12 February, IMF immediately disassembled both fairwater planes and discovered that saltwater intrusion and significant corrosion had caused serious deterioration in their material and operational condition.

Fairwater planes are horizontally disposed control surfaces – “wings” – mounted on the sail for controlling the ship’s angle of rise or dive while submerged and underway. Given the importance of keeping them in peak condition and operating quietly, IMF considered several options. The principal concerns were safety and cost control. Although IMF has been accomplishing depot-level repairs and refurbishment on major components of the TRIDENT submarines for years – replacing main propulsion shafts and overhauling SSTGs and SSMGs, for example – they had never completely disassembled submarine fairwater planes. This type of work would normally be undertaken by the Naval Shipyards, but given the constant use of their drydocks and the consequent necessity of a long shipyard availability, the operating schedule of the submarine would have been compromised. Moreover, the rapid deterioration of Kentucky’s fairwater planes demanded an early solution.

According to CDR John Baldwin, IMF Production Management Assistant (PMA), and head of the project, a team of engineers, planners, machinists, and other shop leaders from the IMF, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility (PSNS&IMF), Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), and Electric Boat pulled together to consider repair options. “This was a major team effort by nearly everyone involved in ship maintenance to apply the One Shipyard concept to resolve a maintenance issue for the Navy,” said Baldwin. “Once we got in there and saw the extent of the damage, it became clear that we were going to have to rethink completely the way the repair was going to take place in order to get the ship back to sea quickly. The IMF had a window of opportunity in its maintenance schedule for other in-port submarines and potentially could perform permanent repairs during the Kentucky’s upcoming scheduled refit,” he added.

The team determined that there were essentially three options. The first – which would leave the ship’s schedule unchanged – was to perform another temporary repair, reassemble the planes with their existing deficiencies, and defer the permanent repair until the ship went into a major shipyard overhaul. However, because there was no guarantee that this approach would correct the problem, and the life expectancy of the temporary fix was unknown, it was considered the highest-risk alternative, even though it could have been accomplished during a normal refit and at low cost.

Photo caption follows A mechanic stamps the weight limit and test date on the Navy’s first vertical fairwater plane stand, fabricated in-house at IMF Bangor.

The second option was to send the planes and stock back to Newport News Shipbuilding, which had conducted similar repairs in the past for other submarines homeported at Kings Bay. Given the size and weight of the components, this would have been extremely expensive and time consuming. The fairplane stock – essentially the horizontal axle for rotating the planes – weighs 13,600 pounds, and each plane alone weighs about 25,800 pounds. The latter, when standing vertically, are 17 feet high by 15 feet wide, which precluded shipping them by air. Even if specially-configured trucks could deliver them to the East Coast, Newport News was extremely busy at the time and unable to complete the job in the narrow window available.

The third option – the one ultimately selected – was to do the job in-house at the IMF, with significant participation by a large Navy-contractor team. This approach ended up breaking new ground, not only among the maintenance providers in the Pacific Northwest, but Navy-wide. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England has said that the common thread of his initiatives over the last three years has been to improve the management and efficiency of our naval forces. Within the maintenance community, a Transformation Plan has been in progress to subsume all maintenance activities into a “One Shipyard” concept in order to gain greater efficiencies and effectiveness in serving the fleet. Kentucky was an early beneficiary, and ultimately her design integrity was restored, and her operational schedule maintained.

The plan incorporated the ideas and best practices from a number of contributors, including the IMF, PSNS&IMF, NAVSEA, and private contractors. The highly complex job was made even more difficult by the need for significant welding on the fairplane stock, an HY (High Yield) 100 alloy forging for which the Navy had no approved welding procedures. Additionally, there were complex metallurgic issues and the requirement for a very large lathe for final machining.

“The IMF proposed a plan for the repairs we intended to conduct and the technical methods and procedures we would carry out. Then, as the Navy’s technical authority, NAVSEA 07T had to evaluate them and provide concurrence,” said CDR Baldwin. “In addition, we needed to work with Commander, Submarine Squadron 17 (CSS-17), Commander, Submarine Group 9 (COMSUBGRU-9), and Commander Submarines Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) to assure them that not only could we complete the repairs in a timely manner, but also that the end result would pass all tests and meet operational specifications,” he concluded. This became the first-ever repair outside a shipyard on components that are not normally even addressed during a major two-year overhaul. Moreover, IMF had no authoritative source documents or procedures to accomplish the work.