USS Virginia: New Era at the Shipyard
USS Virginia will Arrive Next Month
By Deborah McDermott
Seacoast Sunday, August 8, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Sunday and Seacoast Online.]
[Rich Beauchesne Photo]
The workers and U.S. Navy personnel at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are ready, excited and proud to welcome the USS Virginia — the first in the Navy's newest line of nuclear submarines — to the yard next month.
"It's the first major availability for this submarine anywhere in the country, so we'll be setting the standard," said Capt. Bryant Fuller, commander of the shipyard.
It's been a long road to this day, beginning just after the yard was taken off the Base Realignment and Closure list in 2005, and it will continue well into the future.
Much planning has gone into preparing the yard to accept the Virginia class, 17 feet longer and more technologically advanced than the Los Angeles class, which up to now has been the yard's bread and butter.
In all, $43.5 million has been spent or allocated over the course of the past four years gearing up for the Virginia class, according to the yard's public affairs office.
Drydock #3, one of three at the yard, will be the primary drydock for the new subs. Interestingly, once the submarine is in drydock it is enclosed using modular units that fit into place, "a lot like Lego blocks," Fuller said.
Most are interchangeable for both the Los Angeles and Virginia class, but not all. Units had to be built for the Virginia class, to accommodate its specifications.
At Drydock #3, a rudder pit had to be excavated and constructed to accommodate removal of the rudder, the concrete floor and walls were repaired and resurfaced, and a great deal of work went into upgrading the heating, lighting and ventilation systems.
[Rich Beauchesne Photo]
Work on the first of three phases to refurbish the yard's drydock support facility will begin this fall, with a $21 million Congressional earmark. Phases 2 and 3 are scheduled for the future.
The facility will also be able to maintain its support of the Los Angeles class. Fuller said there are actually three pots of money that have been tapped to do the work at the yard. The earmarks, or "military construction" money that comes from Congress is one.
The U.S. Navy's capital improvement budget picked up another $14.5 million. And $8 million came from the yard's own facilities sustainment budget.
Fuller said it's important to note that 95 percent of the work that will be performed on the Virginia class is for all intents and purposes the same as for the Los Angeles class.
"If you can work on one, in most cases you can work on both," he said. But that 5 percent is critically different, as the Virginia class has a lot more technology than its older cousin.
There are some tens of thousands of parts to a Virginia class sub, and the technical instructions for it were written in the past several years by about 100 engineers at the yard's Ship Availability Planning and Engineering Center.
The instructions are extraordinarily exact, about not only how to repair or replace a component but how to get to it, perhaps at the back of an intricate control panel.
For instance, one key technological difference between the two classes, and part of that 5 percent, involves the Virginia's photonic masts. Instead of a periscope, these masts each contain several high-resolution cameras with light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder and an integrated electronic support measures array. Signals from the masts' sensors are transmitted through fiber-optic data lines through signal processors to the control center.
The workforce needs to be trained to learn how to overhaul these masts, Fuller said.
The masts are part of the ship's systems, and workers have created a number of real-sized models of the system to prepare for the Virginia class, he said. "They've actually been working on these models right along, so when the real thing arrives, they'll know how to go about their work," Fuller said.
The shipyard also designed and built a Virginia class hull mock-up to train fabricators on the installation and removal of the next generation of paint and preservation systems.
Fuller said while the yard has been adding workers in recent years to its current level of 4,400, that fact can't be attributed per se to the Virginia class. Rather, much as yard work and equipment for the Virginia and Navy officials had to budget for class over a number of years, they also had to increase the workforce to accommodate work on two classes of subs. Next year, said Fuller, one-third of the workforce will be working on Virginia class subs, and all of them are capable of working on either.
Fuller said the yard is planning some sort of celebration when USS Virginia arrives in early September, and for good reason. It marks a major milestone for the yard. "We're excited," he said. "And we're ready."