Top Navy officials told the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee on Tuesday that the service plans to extend the life of one nuclear-powered Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) attack submarine by 10 years before seeing if it will repeat the process with four more.
James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development, and acquisition (ASN RD&A), told the committee that the FY ’19 budget includes funds to extend the first of up to five Los Angeles-class submarines.
“We believe we have four other propulsion plants that are available. We’re screening the ships and identified the ships so we’re going to work the first one and if that’s successful then we’ll program in, that would give us another 10 years of life on those five submarines.”
The Navy's FY '19 budget request and 30-year shipbuilding plan released in February explained the Navy's plan to extend the life of the five Los Angeles-class submarines as part of the effort to grow to 355 ships (Defense Daily, Feb. 14).
Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Submarines, said the boats were not designed for ease of refueling, but “it’s not too difficult to go back in and allow that eventuality at this point.”
He noted the biggest technical risks are the non-nuclear reactor parts of taking a ship planned to serve for 33 years and extending it for another 10 years.
Jabaley said the Navy is learning more about this life extension process by doing the same thing on the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) and “we get more and more confident we can do this with Los Angeles-class as well.”
He added the life extension was “spurred by the fact we already had material available to refuel submarines,” so it made sense to take a look at the Navy’s assumptions if they could do it.
Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) asked the officials how long it takes to make sure the submarines will work adequately with life extension, beyond the propulsion plant.
Jabaley said each submarine under consideration either has or will soon go through its normal midlife overhaul. “And that gives us a very good assessment of the material condition of the ships.”
The next step is for the NAVSEA engineering directorate to do the material condition assessment as the submarine approaches the availability that the Navy would turn into a refueling. The directorate also identifies any other maintenance that must be done during the refueling overhaul and other things the Navy will put on a watchlist to guarantee it understands how the vessel is aging.
“So it’s a significant amount of engineering rigor and as we said we’ve gained a lot of experience in extending the Ohio-class already,” he said.
The Los Angeles-class submarines were built by General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat and Hunting Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding.