General Dynamics Electric Boat Discovers Faulty Welding in Columbia-class Submarine Missile Tubes

General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) discovered faulty welding in several missile tubes destined for U.S. Navy’s Columbia and Virginia-class submarine programs, as well as the United Kingdom’s follow-on ballistic missile submarine program, DefenseNews reported.

According to the report, a total of 12 missile tubes manufactured by BWXT Inc. are being scrutinized for substandard welds. The report added that seven of those 12 had already been delivered to GDEB , the prime contractor of the Columbia-class program, and were in various stages of outfitting, and five are still under construction.

BWXT is one of three vendors sub-contracted to deliver missile tubes which will form part of the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) to be equipped on Columbia-class as well as UK Royal Navy’s future Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). The company is also one of two on contract for missile cells of the Virginia class attack submarines. The quality control issue will thereby not only impact the U.S. and U.K. SSBN programs, but might also impact the schedule for the U.S. Navy’s next iteration of the Virginia class, Virginia Block V, which incorporates additional vertical-launch missile cells, known as the Virginia Payload Module (VPM).

The U.S. Navy and Electric Boat have launched an investigation, DefenseNews report stated citing a statement from Bill Couch, the spokesman of the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). “All BWXT welding requiring volumetric inspection has been halted until the investigation is complete,” Couch was quoted as saying.

The bad welds came to light after discrepancies were discovered with the equipment BWXT used to test the welds before shipping them to GDEB, said a source familiar with the issue.

The discovery of a significant quality control issue at the very start of fabrication injected uncertainty in the Navy’s $122.3 billion Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program. This raises questions about whether the first submarine of the class, the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826), be delivered on time, something the Navy says is vital to ensuring continuous nuclear deterrent patrols as the current Ohio-class SSBNs reach the end of their service life.

The Navy awarded General Dynamics a $101 million contract for SSBN missile tubes back in 2016. In September last year, the Navy awarded a $5.1 billion contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat to finish design work for the boat ahead of beginning construction in 2021.

The Navy needs to start construction on Columbia in 2021 to have the boat out on patrol by 2031.

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