Two elderly Los Angeles-class submarines headed for decommissioning — USS Olympia (SSN 717), commissioned in 1984, and USS Louisville (SSN 724), commissioned in 1986, – both entered Dry Dock 5 at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility yesterday.
The two submarines are to be inactivated simultaneously. According to Cmdr. Jack Tappe, project superintendent, this brings both challenges and benefits.
“Most project teams have only one ship complement or crew to synchronize with,” said Tappe. “Our folks have had to coordinate communications and planning across two very different crews, and they have done this very well. Fortunately for us we have the benefit of having some very experienced folks on the Project Team.”
Tappe said the coordination among the project team and the leadership and crews of Olympia and Louisville has been very successful thus far.
“I am extremely proud of our ships’ crews and project team,” said Tappe. “I have never been with a team that has been able to pull two projects to the left by a month and dock early, even during our time of resource shortage and COVID-19 response. This win is due to the hard work and dedication of our friends in the shops and tech codes helping us out.”
Leaders from both ships agreed that efficient communications among all the stakeholders will be key to the continued success of the concurrent inactivation process.
“Transparency and good communications, early and often, are the key to this,” said Louisville’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. Chris Brown. “The inactivation is a team sport, so we’re working hand-in-hand with the project to make sure that all questions are answered in advance so that as we approach each milestone we’re ready to go.”
Olympia’s Commanding Officer Cmdr. Jim Steffen agreed.
“The key to a successful project is communication,” Steffen said. “We’ve already started off on the right foot with the project team. We’re fully integrated, and our goal is to keep communicating not just what’s happening today, but also what’s happening next week. If we can keep that up, this is going to be a smooth project.”
“I think the biggest part is understanding we are one team,” said Olympia’s Chief of the Boat Master Chief Arturo Plasencia. “As long as we’re moving in one direction toward one common goal; that will be the key to success here. We can help the shipyard with any manning shortfalls, and the shipyard can help us by providing us with various skills we don’t necessarily hold onboard, and teaching our Sailors some of those skills.”
Tappe said executing concurrent inactivations is more cost and time efficient than inactivating the ships one at a time.
“We save an enormous amount of time and money by conducting a dual inactivation,” Tappe said. “A single project team is deactivating two submarines at the same time. That is a significant cost savings in the way of personnel. Additionally, the team has identified key individuals to cover two submarines versus having one individual for each submarine.”
“We have one Chief Refueling Engineer responsible for defueling both submarines,” Tappe continued. “We can also surge the workforce between both submarines if necessary, so we have scheduled similar work within weeks of each other to maximize efficiency. By doing this we can also have one ship’s crew watch the other during their evolution, so they can learn from that evolution in as near real-time as possible before they begin their evolution.”
Passing lessons learned from one part of the team to the other, and to ship’s force, may also help streamline operations.
“I’m excited we’re going to run both projects concurrently,” Brown said. “Lessons learned from one unit can be immediately passed to the next. That way we’re able to minimize any delays and accelerate the timelines as we learn each new lesson.”
According to Tappe, capturing lessons learned in real time will assist not only with the concurrent inactivations, it can help future inactivation teams.
“We are hot washing many evolutions once they are completed instead of waiting for the end of availability,” Tappe said. “Our Risk Manager, Roxanne Minder, has been a key player in assisting with gathering the lessons learned from previous inactivation availabilities and documenting all our own lessons learned. We should have a significant amount of detail to turn over to the next SSN-688 inactivation team.”
“The crew will be involved in all aspects of the inactivation,” said Brown. “We’ve had many opportunities to expand their role. With COVID-19 mitigations, we were actually able to get them more involved than they would have been, to keep us on track.”