Archive for the 'northrop grumman' Tag

Is the Navy having some problems getting along with shipbuilder Northrop Grumman? Defense media overlooked some stern words–and a hand-carried letter–Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) delivered to SECNAV Mabus after a February 24 hearing on the Navy’s FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Budget Request. Here’s a rough transcript–of what sounds somewhat like an ultimatum:

“…Secretary Mabus, before you leave I’d like to hand-deliver to you a letter from myself, Senator Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Wicker (R-MS). A similar letter was delivered to Northrop Grumman last week. And it basically says that Congress has authorized and appropriated five ships…and yet, for whatever reason, Northrop and the Navy have not come to terms and gotten those ships started.

The admiral has made an excellent case that he needs a bigger fleet. The Congress has already responded to that by authorizing and appropriating the money. We need to get going. And so I don’t know if it’s Northrop’s delay. I don’t know if it’s the Navy’s delay. But there is a delay that needs to be addressed and I’m going to ask you to take a look at that. But again, thank all of you for your services and with that, this meeting is adjourned…”

What’s the deal here? Why all the foot-dragging? Is the delay just focusing on Northrop’s Gulf Coast yards?

At any rate, an exchange of letters is certainly not the sort of thing that happens when all is, ah, going well in the shipbuilding department.

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Notice how stories detailing the LPD-17 powerplant “crisis” focus on LPD-17, 18 and 21?

Notice how the reporting, in passing, note that LPD-19 and 20 encountered similar engine problems, but, after maintenance, both seem to have dodged a bullet?

Well, not so fast…it looks like the USS MESA VERDE (LPD-19) had substantive powerplant issues before her shock trials (back in August-September 2008)–USS MESA VERDE suffered a “catastrophic” mishap even before LPD-17 failed in the Gulf.

Read the Defense Department’s December 2009 Operational Test and Evaluation Report closely:

Catastrophic casualties recorded prior to the Full Ship Shock Trial in LPD-19 and during LPD-17’s deployment revealed serious fabrication and production deficiencies in the main lube oil service system.”

What happened there? IF the LPD-19 event was, in any way, comparable with the November 2008 LPD-17 failure (where the ship was sidelined for weeks), then why wasn’t the LPD-19 failure widely broadcast?

The LPD-19 incident predates the LPD-17 incident. Why, then, in the light of such a catastrophic failure, was the LPD-17 sent out on deployment with no fixes in sight? Were the LPD-19 problems kept quiet…or, to be cynical for a moment…Did the LPD-19 failure occur in close proximity to the Navy’s announcement that the LPD-17 reached IOC in May 2008?

Unless the Operational Test and Evaluation Report is detailing a completely different failure, the Report contradicts Jay Stefany, the Navy’s LPD-17 program manager. Navy Times’ Chris Cavas recently reported:

“Stefany said the problems were a recurrence of similar issues discovered about a year ago on the Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and Green Bay (LPD 20). “The ships were down for a number of months,” he said, and stainless steel shavings were discovered in the lube oil.”

Seems like LPD-19–at a minimum–failed about a year an a half ago…

Along with that interesting note, the Operational Test and Evaluation Report emphasizes the entire Class is experiencing a range of other failures/problems–problems that go far beyond welding or engine plant design. The platform is, at best, infirm.

First–and unsurprisingly–the engineering is problematic:

“Reliability problems associated with the Engineering Control System (ECS), including frequent failures and high false alarm rates, and the electrical distribution system, including unexplained loss of service generators and the uncommanded opening of breakers, revealed shortfalls in manning and training to support sustained manual operation of the plant.”

Communications are wobbly:

“…reliability problems with the SWAN and the Interior Voice Communications System degrade command and control and are single points of failure during operations.”

And, of course, the amphibious basics ain’t good, either:

‘Reliability problems related to well deck ramps, ventilation, bridge crane, and Cargo Ammunition Magazine (CAM) elevators detracts from mission accomplishment and reduces amphibious warfare suitability.”

Add in issues with the LPD-17’s ability to produce chilled water, there’s also a long laundry list of problems with the LPD-17 Class SSDS, the RAM system, radars and gun interface. Combined, those failures limit the LPD-17 Class, opening these ships to attack.

But those problems were covered last year, over here.

The continued vigorous defense of these platforms by Marines and other LPD-17 boosters simply stuns me. Why are we building LPD-17s if the ships are not functional?

Is time to stop work on these things? What’s the going opinion? Do tell!

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090110-M-6412J-091Stormy times ahead for Northrop Grumman’s Gulf Shipyards and Navy shipbuilding.

First, news broke today that LPD-17 and LPD-21 are–even though they’re desperately needed for Haiti service–now “sidelined,” according to Insidedefense.com. 

The USS New York, less than a month from commissioning, has a bent crankshaft. Until that crankshaft is repaired LPD-21 will only be able to use three of four engines. The ship won’t be able to get underway until next month because two engines need to be repaired.

No news yet on the prognosis for LPD-17. It is now in a Virginia shipyard.

LPD 19 and 20 suffered oil contamination problems (a potential precursor to bearing wear and crankshaft issues) earlier, but the Navy seems confident they’re OK for now. LPD-18 seems OK.

What are we going to do with the LPD-17 program? Things were looking up. Last year, Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work, in his 2009 Naval White Paper, wrote “after a troubled start, the LPD-17 program appears to have finally found its sea legs (pg 78).” Just how close-held was this issue? And did the failure to promptly disseminate news of LPD-17 problems derail the promulgation of good policy?

Navy Times reports even more bad tidings:

“Inspectors are rechecking every pipe weld aboard every ship built in the last several years at Avondale, La., or Pascagoula, Miss., including destroyers and small- and big-deck amphibs, after discovering so many problems that all pipe welders and Navy inspectors at both yards had to be decertified and then recertified to work on ships.”

Welding issues appear to plague many vessels built at the Gulf shipyards. DDGs, LHD-8, every LPD…(No news yet on the Legend Class Coast Guard Cutters) suffer from about a 10-15 percent incidence of thin welds. We’ll find out more over the coming weeks.

So, in short, we have a serious problem in shipbuilding (and shipbuilding oversight) in the Gulf, and a potentially serious design problem with the LPD-17s engines. I’d like to see some accountability here, but, in all honesty, I expect the folks who approved the LPD-17 engine designs will probably get some kind of award for helping create a new means to discover the bad welds…

At least we can all sit back and watch as different parts of the navy’s shipbuilding community desperately try to shift the blame for this current fiasco onto somebody else.

With this, the LCS-1 problems and the EB sub welding issues, it’s little wonder SECDEF Gates kept the Navy from testifying at the Jan 20 House Armed Services Committee meeting on Naval Force Structure!

For those who don’t know, HASC’s Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor’s primary constituency base is from the Northrop Grumman Gulf Shipyards, so we can, as this story evolves, expect some fireworks as Congressman Taylor scrambles to protect his parochial interests.

Like any evolving story, it’ll take time to get all the facts. Consider this merely a means to start a discussion…

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