Monday, July 25, 2005
Navy inspectors have uncovered significant manufacturing problems in the service's newest transport ship. In its assessment of the USS San Antonio, the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey found a dizzying array of safety deficiencies throughout the ship, the first in a new class designed to ferry Marines and their weapons into battle.
USS San Antonio (LPD-17) The ship is infested with corrosion, is badly wired, poorly built and deemed so unsafe that inspectors warned the Navy not to take it to sea. Construction and craftsmanship standards were "poor," they wrote following an inspection conducted from June 27 through July 5. Workers left a "snarled, over-packed, poorly assembled and virtually uncorrectable electrical/electronic cable plant." Watertight integrity was compromised throughout the ship by multiple cable lines. The inspectors predicted the San Antonio "will be plagued by electrical/electronic cable plant installation deficiencies throughout its entire service life" if corrective work is not completed. Though those actions are on the drawing board, inspectors warned that the San Antonio should not be put in to service until "significant" damage control and firefighting systems are installed. The report was first disclosed by the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va. The newspaper said the inspection was dated July 8. Although the Navy agency found many problems, it also concluded that the San Antonio has "great potential for future useful service to the fleet." The Navy and shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Ship Systems say the San Antonio has encountered fewer problems than other vessels like it. "There's a big picture to complex ships," Northrop Grumman Ship Systems spokesman Brian Cullin said Thursday. "It is the first of class and every first of class has significant challenges." The ship was delivered to the Navy this week with little fanfare. It passed inspection after winning "satisfactory" scores in testing conducted by the shipbuilder. But the San Antonio was deemed "an incomplete ship," missing everything from deck drains to berthing compartment sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers, according to the report. The San Antonio is the Navy's first ship designed to be less visible on enemy radar screens, although the report said that cost cuts forced the Navy to eliminate some of the ship's radar-evading traits. It's the fleet's first "gender-neutral" ship, with living quarters and showers for women. It is also the first ship designed to carry the V-22 tiltrotor, the Marine Corps' newest aircraft. Designed entirely on computer, the San Antonio was to be the first of 12 amphibious transport dock ships built under a $16 billion program. But soaring overruns have forced the Navy to reduce the project by three ships. The San Antonio's cost has surged from $830 million to a projected $1.85 billion. Northrop Grumman's Cullin said costs have increased in part because the ship still was being still being designed two years into its construction. "I can understand why the Navy and Northrop Grumman are defensive about this," said retired Rear Adm. Steve Pietropaoli, a former top Navy spokesman and executive director of the U.S. Navy League, an educational organization in Arlington, Va. "But the fact is we're not getting the product we need to support Marines in the future." The ship measures 684 feet, displaces 24,900 tons and will carry a crew of 360 seamen and 700 Marines.