Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (PNSY), located in Kittery, Maine, provides the Navy’s submarine fleet with quality overhaul work in a safe, timely, and affordable manner. Highly complex assignments ranging from a few days to more than two years are routinely accomplished by experienced tradespeople at the shipyard, which has the capacity to handle any submarine in the U.S. Navy.
Established by the federal government in 1800, PNSY launched its first ship—the 74-gun ship-of-the-line USS Washington—in 1814. With the construction of a permanent dry dock in 1906, the shipyard mission of ship construction, overhaul, and repair was greatly enhanced.
During WWI, the shipyard workforce expanded to nearly 5,000 people and took on an additional and important role—submarine construction. WWII saw the civilian employment rolls swell to more than 21,000 men and women as more than 70 submarines were constructed during that time.
In 1917, the first submarine to be built in a U.S. naval shipyard, USS L-8 (SS-48), was undertaken at Portsmouth. Intended primarily for coastal defense, the L-class boats were 168 feet long with two 450-horsepower diesel engines capable of 14 knots on the surface and 10-1/2 knots submerged. The L boats were armed with four 18-inch torpedo tubes in the bow and were the first to carry a deck gun.
A leader in submarine construction, PNSY launched four submarines on the same day—USS Razorback (SS 394), USS Redfish (SS 395), USS Ronquil (SS 396), and USS Scabbardfish (SS 397)—on January 27, 1944, an accomplishment in submarine construction that has never been matched. Following WWII, Portsmouth was the Navy’s center for submarine design and development. In 1953, the research submarine USS Albacore (SS 569), with its revolutionary tear-drop-shaped hull and round cross section, set the standard for all subsequent submarine hull design world-wide. At the time, it was the world’s fastest and most maneuverable submarine. In 1958, PNSY built the first nuclear-powered submarine constructed in a naval shipyard, USS Swordfish (SSN 579).
Portsmouth continued to build submarines until 1969 when the last submarine constructed in a public shipyard, USS Sand Lance (SSN 660), was launched. PNSY’s mission was then refocused to the repair, overhaul, and inactivation of the Navy’s nuclear-powered submarines.
First-Time Quality Work
Today, PNSY’s mission is to maintain, repair, overhaul, modernize, and inactivate nuclear-powered submarines. To accomplish this mission, shipyard workers perform complex and challenging tasks that require a great deal of technical expertise. The work of these men and women has a direct impact on warfighter readiness, with no room for error. In an environment where quality, time, and cost are of the essence, PNSY is committed to first-time quality work, which yields positive results in both cost and schedule performance.
In 2004, PNSY delivered six ships in a row back to the fleet, setting cost and schedule performance records in the process. PNSY highlighted its complex and substantial maintenance workload when it delivered USS Helena (SSN 725) as the fastest engineered overhaul in history, inactivated USS Memphis (SSN 691) 30 days ahead of schedule, delivered USS San Juan (SSN 751) eight days early, and most recently completing the pre-inactivation restricted availability on USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720) on time and under budget.
The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment, San Diego, was established in 2008 to provide intermediate-level maintenance to Los Angeles-class submarines homeported on the West Coast. In 2009, the detachment completed its first docking selected restricted availability for USS Hampton (SSN 767) two weeks early and, in 2011, completed the USS San Francisco pre-inactivation restricted availability on time and $2.5 million under budget.
In an effort to reduce production welding time, PNSY has integrated a new robotic metal inert gas welder into the valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) battery cabinet fabrication process. PNSY is the sole provider of VRLA battery cabinets for Los Angeles-class submarines.
The cabinet fabrication process is extensive, with stringent interior dimension tolerances. To meet these high standards, a complex welding sequence was required to distribute heat across the cabinet and minimize distortion during the manual welding operation, a process that could take upward of eight hours. The robotic welder automates the process and completes the sequence in approximately an hour and a half, an 83-percent reduction in the time required for the process.
The machine significantly reduces the final cleaning and grinding process as well. Manual welds required nearly eight hours of final cleaning and grinding compared to just four hours for the robotic welds, which has resulted in a 49-percent cycle-time reduction for this process.
Experience coupled with innovation and application of streamlined industrial practices has allowed PNSY to set new benchmarks in the performance of submarine maintenance, modernization, and overhaul work. While the Navy’s Los Angeles-class submarines continue to be the shipyard’s primary customers, Portsmouth ushered in the next chapter in submarine maintenance, performing the first-of-its-class major maintenance availability on USS Virginia (SSN 774).
Learning centers allow mechanics to practice their skills in a realistic training
environment prior to going to work on an actual vessel.
Highly Qualified Workforce
As PSNY moves into the future, it has taken the lead in transforming the way shipyards prepare the next generation of mechanics for submarine maintenance work. Naval shipyards across the nation have been facing a critical challenge with a gap of experience in their trade skills workforce. At Portsmouth, 53 percent of the workforce has less than 10 years of experience while 29 percent are eligible to retire. Portsmouth is quickly narrowing this gap by embracing new opportunities to efficiently transfer knowledge and skills to the next generation and ready them for excellence.
The implementation of learning centers or mock-ups that consist of vessel components brought into shop spaces for use as training aids has greatly increased opportunities for hands-on learning for both new and experienced mechanics. Learning centers allow mechanics to practice their skills in a realistic training environment before going to work on an actual vessel. Learning centers also provide opportunities for constant refresher training, testing, and troubleshooting for real-world issues, making continuous learning part of the PNSY culture.
This innovative approach to mechanic development has produced results across the shipyard. This is exemplified by the more than 1,000 man-hour reduction in resources for the sonar sphere ship alteration on USS Topeka (SSN 754), currently undergoing maintenance at the shipyard. Hands-on learning is giving the next-generation workforce the skills it needs to continue the Portsmouth tradition of safely delivering first-time quality on time and on budget.
Safety is the highest priority at PSNY. Portsmouth implemented the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which encourages active union, management, and employee participation in safety and is focused on keeping people safe and reducing costs. In 2005, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recognized PSNY for achieving star status in their VPP. Portsmouth was the first Navy activity to be so honored. In 2008 and again in 2013, the Department of Labor recognized PSNY’s superb safety record and recertified the shipyard’s star status.
PNSY currently has three submarines undergoing repairs in the yard. USS Topeka’s engineered overhaul is off to a fast start. The project team and ship’s force have built on the early momentum and continue to complete key milestones ahead of schedule. Planning and preparation are in full swing for USS Miami (SSN 755) inactivation, with deckplate work expected to begin in 2014. USS Alexandria (SSN 757) has just arrived and will undergo various repairs and several system upgrades as part of its overhaul.
At PNSY’s San Diego detachment, intermediate maintenance is being performed on several submarines, including the pre-inactivation restricted availability on USS Albuquerque (SSN 706) and a continuous maintenance availability on USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723). Repairs and restoration of the Pressurized Rescue Module Falcon are progressing, with off-yard testing and repairs beginning this quarter.