Sub Base Kings Bay Keeping Current Ohio Subs Ready, Prepping for Incoming Columbia Class

 In U.S. Navy

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Alaska (SSBN 732) blue crew returns to its homeport at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, in November 2018, following a strategic deterrence patrol. The boat is one of five ballistic-missile submarines stationed at the base and is capable of carrying up to 20 submarine-launched ballistic missiles with multiple warheads.

ABOARD BALLISTIC MISSILE SUBMARINE USS ALASKA, AT NAVAL SUBMARINE BASE KINGS BAY, Ga. – The East Coast’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­ma­rine hub is busy keep­ing up the readi­ness of its legacy Ohio-class boomers while also laying the ground­work to wel­come the new Columbia class later in the decade.

The base’s chal­lenge with the Ohio-class bal­lis­tic mis­sile (SSBN) and guided-mis­sile (SSGN) vari­ants locat­ed here is twofold: most imme­di­ate­ly, the base is locat­ed near the Florida-Georgia line, with both states being hotspots for the COVID-19 virus. More broad­ly, the base is sup­port­ing sub­marines that have start­ed sur­pass­ing their orig­i­nal expect­ed ser­vice lives, with the Ohio class orig­i­nal­ly being planned for 30 years of oper­a­tions but some boats now well on their way to the revised 42-year life expectan­cy.

USNI News was invit­ed to the base when Defense Secretary Mark Esper vis­it­ed on July 30 to check on how the work­force was per­form­ing during the pan­dem­ic.

The base is home to six SSBNs and two SSGNs, as well as the Trident Refit Facility that per­forms repairs, mod­ern­iza­tion and over­hauls on these boats; the Trident Training Facility; and the Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic that sup­ports the sub­ma­rine-launched nuclear weapons the sub­marines deploy with. Kings Bay was designed in the 1970s to be com­plete­ly focused on sup­port­ing the Ohio-class boats and the nuclear weapons they carry on their stealthy patrols.

And yet, in just eight years, the base will have to take on a second class of sub­ma­rine that is larger, has fly-by-wire con­trol sys­tems and will have dif­fer­ent main­te­nance and mod­ern­iza­tion needs.

As a result, the base is busy keep­ing up main­te­nance work, crew train­ing and deploy­ment activ­i­ties for the Ohio boats even as con­struc­tion activ­i­ties begin to make way for USS Columbia’s (SSBN-826) deliv­ery to the fleet at Kings Bay in 2028.

“America’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile sub­marines remain the most sur­viv­able and pow­er­ful deter­rents on earth. Nuclear mod­ern­iza­tion is a top pri­or­i­ty, espe­cial­ly in our efforts to imple­ment the National Defense Strategy,” Esper told USNI News.
“We have made great strides in recap­i­tal­iz­ing the strate­gic nuclear triad, as well as main­tain­ing the strength and reli­a­bil­i­ty of our nation’s nuclear deter­rent.”

Readiness of Aging Subs

Defense Secretary, Dr. Mark T. Esper, tours the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS Rhode Island (SSBN 740) (Blue) with Rear Adm. John Spencer, Commander, Submarine Group Ten, during his visit to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., on July 30, 2020. The base is home to all East Coast Ohio-Class submarines. US Navy photo.

USS Alaska (SSBN-732) is pier-side at the sub­ma­rine base, under­go­ing a major ren­o­va­tion that its design­ers never planned for. The Ohio class of sub­marines was built to last for 30 years, but during the 1990s the Navy asked builder General Dynamics Electric Boat to look into what it would take to extend the service life out to 42 years. The cal­cu­la­tions that were made 25 years ago are now prov­ing them­selves in real life, as the fleet con­tin­ues to deploy boats that are well into their 30s now and have sur­passed the longest ser­vice life of a pre­vi­ous U.S. sub­ma­rine: USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642), which lasted 36 and a half years.

Cmdr. Adam Thomas, the com­mand­ing offi­cer of the Alaska gold crew, told USNI News that his sub­ma­rine is in a year-long main­te­nance and mod­ern­iza­tion period in which tanks are being blast­ed, inspect­ed and re-coated; the sonar and fire con­trol sys­tems are being torn out and replaced with new sys­tems; and the nuclear propul­sion system is being main­tained to ensure it can oper­ate for the remain­ing eight years of its life.

This kind of year-long over­haul hap­pens every 10 years or so, mean­ing this third such over­haul was never orig­i­nal­ly planned for the sub.

“What we’re seeing age-wise is what you’d expect from a 34-year-old boat,” Thomas said during a tour of the sub­ma­rine, noting that noth­ing specif­i­cal­ly was wrong with the sub but that there was a lot of rou­tine main­te­nance work that needed to be done.

He added that there was addi­tion­al pres­sure during main­te­nance peri­ods like this one to get every­thing right: with the subs being so old and many parts man­u­fac­tur­ers no longer in busi­ness, there’s no room for error.

“This is all we have,” he said of the parts supply, adding that they can’t raid other sub­marines for parts either because the oper­a­tional tempo of the fleet is so high.

Each of the Ohio-class SSBNs and SSGNs had to under­go a refu­el­ing at the 30-year mark, since the subs’ nuclear reac­tors were built for exact­ly 30 years of ser­vice. The refu­el­ings took place at Norfolk Naval Shipyard on the East Coast and at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility on the West Coast.

USNI News previously reported that each of the two public shipyards was work­ing on its final SSBN refu­el­ing now. USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) will wrap up at Norfolk by the end of this summer, and then Puget will finish the very last refu­el­ing with USS Louisiana (SSBN-743).

The rest of the main­te­nance work for the East Coast Ohio subs falls to the work­force at Kings Bay’s Trident Refit Facility, which has a dry dock for out-of-water work and helps ship crews con­duct pier-side work as well.

COVID Considerations

Defense Secretary, Dr. Mark T. Esper, bumps elbows with Capt. Bill Patterson, commodore, Submarine Squadron 16, prior to his tour aboard the Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Florida (SSGN 728) (Gold) during his visit to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., on July 30, 2020. Ohio-class guided-missile submarines are capable of carrying up to 154 tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles. The base is home to all East Coast Ohio-Class submarines. US Navy photo.

The boomers that deploy from Kings Bay have a blue/gold crew man­ning con­struct, and the crews swap out every three months or so to keep the sub­ma­rine on sta­tion for long stretch­es of time while allow­ing the crew time at home with family and time for train­ing and re-cer­ti­fy­ing for crit­i­cal skills.

However, with COVID-19 posing a threat to per­son­nel every­where, and espe­cial­ly in hotspots with high pos­i­tiv­i­ty rates like Georgia, the Navy has to be par­tic­u­lar­ly care­ful with per­son­nel at this sub­ma­rine base.

Thomas told USNI News that the deploy­ing crews have a care­ful­ly script­ed plan that involves going into an indi­vid­ual restric­tion of move­ment (ROM) period, quar­an­ti­ning togeth­er as a crew, and then final­ly deploy­ing under the water – with sev­er­al manda­to­ry COVID tests along the way.

Masks are manda­to­ry on the base, and for subs like Alaska that are under­go­ing main­te­nance work, tem­per­a­ture checks and health screen­ings are done for all per­son­nel – sailors, con­trac­tors, vis­i­tors – that come aboard the sub pier-side.

Thomas said only about a quar­ter of the submarine’s crew is actu­al­ly living aboard the sub right now during its year-long main­te­nance period, and so the dozen nine-person berthing rooms on the boat have been lim­it­ed to three sailors apiece to allow for social dis­tanc­ing.

“Max occu­pan­cy: 3. Limited Occupancy in this space as a COVID-19 mit­i­ga­tion,” reads a sign dis­played in one of the bunk rooms.

Thomas said his sub at the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic moved to a duty sec­tion rota­tion that fur­ther allows for phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, and the lunch hour was expand­ed to a two-hour period to avoid gath­er­ing too many people at once.

“As a com­mand­ing offi­cer, I feel that the Navy has given me the tools that I need” to keep the crew safe and virus-free, he said. “We’ve learned a lot [since the pan­dem­ic first start­ed] and we’ve been very effec­tive at man­ag­ing it.”

Looking Forward to Columbia

The Strategic Weapons Facility, Atlantic, is one of the commands at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga.. It handles the East Coast arsenal of submarine-launched nuclear weapons, which the Ohio-class SSBNs carry on their nuclear deterrent patrols. USNI News photo.

Work has already start­ed on the base to pre­pare for the first-in-class Columbia, which is on a tight con­struc­tion sched­ule with General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding to deliv­er to the Navy by 2027 and head to Kings Bay in 2028 for post-deliv­ery test­ing and trials – all in prepa­ra­tion for the all-impor­tant dead­line of an October 2030 maiden deploy­ment.

Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay spokesman Scott Bassett told USNI News during the visit that work to recap­i­tal­ize the dry dock had already begun, which was needed in part because the Columbia-class boats will be larger than their Ohio-class coun­ter­parts in terms of diam­e­ter and dis­place­ment.

The dry dock mod­ern­iza­tion, which could cost as much as $592 mil­lion, will “pro­vide exten­sive repairs to and mod­ern­ize the dock for use by Trident Refit Facility,” he said.

A con­tract for the project was award­ed on March 20 to Alberici-Mortenson JV, based out of St. Louis, Mo.

Phase A includes con­struc­tion of tem­po­rary facil­i­ties for oper­a­tions that will be dis­placed during the over­haul of the dock; over­haul and repair of the steel cais­son; and pro­cure­ment of long-lead mate­ri­als for the recap­i­tal­iza­tion, Bassett said. Phase A is expect­ed to be com­plete in July 2021.

Phase B pro­vides for con­crete repairs in var­i­ous loca­tions through­out the dry dock; over­hauls the bridge cranes; upgrades power dis­tri­b­u­tion, chilled water and the fire detec­tion and alarm system; replaces sluice gates and actu­a­tors; replaces all piping; and will upgrade con­trol sys­tems, elec­tron­ic com­po­nents and the aux­il­iary sea­wa­ter system, he said. This phase will also repair cor­rod­ed steel mem­bers of the dry dock super­struc­ture and re-coat the entire super­struc­ture and replace roof and wall panels. Phase B is planned for com­ple­tion in October of 2022.

Phase C, the final phase of the project, will repair the util­i­ty tunnel and replace util­i­ty ser­vice build­ing equip­ment and the com­mand, con­trol, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, com­put­ers and intel­li­gence (C4I) infra­struc­ture, Bassett said. Phase C is planned to com­plete in April 2023.

In order to meet the tight dead­lines of this project, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) Southeast estab­lished a Construction Management Office on site at NSB Kings Bay with ded­i­cat­ed resources capa­ble of sup­port­ing 24 hours a day activ­i­ties.

In addi­tion to the dry dock over­haul, the Trident Training Facility will also be expand­ed to accom­mo­date class­rooms for two sep­a­rate class­es of sub­ma­rine – some­thing the base has not had to handle before. From the time Columbia deliv­ers until the final Ohio-class SSBN decom­mis­sions around 2040, Kings Bay will have to sup­port two class­es of sub­marines simul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

In Fiscal Year 2023, NAVFAC Southeast will build the Columbia Trainer Expansion onto the train­ing facil­i­ty, along with con­duct­ing mechan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal sys­tems repairs to the cur­rent train­ing facil­i­ty. The Columbia train­er and the mechan­i­cal repairs are expect­ed to cost more than $10 mil­lion each, with the elec­tri­cal repairs expect­ed to cost between $5 mil­lion and $10 mil­lion.

USNI source|articles

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