We are still not sure what to make of this story. In case you haven't heard the details, basically Northrop Grumman Newport News has been accused of a welding issue, what is being termed a "welding process" issue. From Defense News:
In a letter dated Nov. 11 to the shipyard work force, Sector President Mike Petters wrote the “welding discrepancies” have “delayed sea trials and the planned year-end delivery for North Carolina and has impacted other Virginia-class ships as well.”
He said the matter is a “technical issue that has called into question the discipline of our processes.”
Petters wrote in the letter that the problem stems from filler material used in non-nuclear welds and that welders had been allowed to carry several different types of filler material while welding.
Hampton Roads has additional information on the specific ships and submarines being evaluated for the broader inspection.
So far, seven ships beyond the Virginia-class subs have been targeted for an assessment, Dellapenta said. Four are carriers - the George H.W. Bush, the Carl Vinson, the Enterprise and the George Washington. The other three are Los Angeles-class attack submarines - the Toledo, the Newport News and the Oklahoma City.
The carrier Bush is under construction and slated for delivery to the Navy next year, while the Carl Vinson is in the yard for a refueling and maintenance overhaul. The George Washington, now in port, and the Enterprise, scheduled to return Wednesday from a Middle East deployment, have been worked on by shipyard employees in the past three years.
The subs Toledo and Newport News are in the shipyard now for scheduled maintenance, Dellapenta said.
For the record, the USS Oklahoma City (SSN 723) returned from a 6 month deployment on November 9th.
We thoroughly enjoyed Springboards observations of the issue, he unloads perhaps fairly, perhaps not, but certainly points to an interesting time line. His observations reinforce the perception that we are observing, these people do not inspire confidence in shipbuilding. We also note that he isn't the only one pointing out a "process" issue worthy of discussion. From Maritime News and Comment.
HUGE WELDING PROBLEM AT NEWPORT NEWS. Defense News reports that there may be faulty welding throughout all the ships that Northrop Grumman Newport News has built in recent years, including as many as four aircraft carriers and the last few "Los Angeles" class subs. Read the article here. Read the Virginia Pilot's coverage here. No response from NG. Oh lord, what next from these people? In this connection, three of my regular correspondents have already pointed out that at these super-efficient shipyards that NG runs, a welder is paid a bonus based on the amount of weld he or she lays down, he gets that bonus regardless of whether the weld is accepted or not and he also gets it for cutting out any bad welds. Well that makes perfect sense in NG's "screw the taxpayer" world, doesn't it? December 18, 2007.
I love his sarcasm here. While the problem has forced a delay in the delivery of the Virginia class submarine North Carolina, it should be pointed out that other than whatever forced the original inspection, no faulty welds have been found on other ships inspected to date. That isn't to say this isn't an issue, but it may be one of those issues where process could have contributed to a broader problem, but in fact did not... at least so far. We will have to wait and see.
Either way it is another in a series of examples where the US Shipbuilding industry doesn't inspire much confidence, which isn't good considering the Navy inspires even less confidence with their current non plan for shipbuilding. We often hear about the innovation taking place in America, the huge strides we are taking in developing new technologies with new ideas. I'd argue while that is all nice and good, our nation has gone a generation missing the most important part of innovation and improvement, leadership. One would think the practices that Tim describes on his comment site would be something SECNAV should look into.
With a lack of leadership in our political class, perhaps we should be looking to the private sector for leadership. Where is the Joshua Humphreys of the modern era? My bet is he is sitting in a board room part of the system that pays the stockholder and screws the taxpayer.