Photographer: Kyodo News via Getty Images

Navy Sub's Overheating Motor First Glitch in $126 Billion System

  • Navy discloses setback while saying that it’s been resolved
  • Subcontractor to General Dynamics designed prototype motor

The first known glitch in a $126 billion nuclear-armed submarine program -- overheating of a prototype motor -- was disclosed by a key U.S. lawmaker this week and confirmed by the Navy, which said it has fixed the problem.

The flaw in the main propulsion motor was discovered earlier this year, the Navy said in a statement Thursday. Still, it was a milestone, of sorts: an early setback for the submarine being built by General Dynamics Corp. and top subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

“It’s a technical hiccup in the performance of a motor,” Representative Rob Wittman, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services seapower panel, told reporters Wednesday. “There’s a motor that didn’t perform properly. It overheated.”

The Navy said in its statement that the issue with the motor designed by a General Dynamics subcontractor isn’t expected to delay planned delivery -- anticipated for around 2028 -- of the first of 12 submarines that the service needs to have on patrol by 2031. Construction of the vessel is set to begin in fiscal 2021.

“Recovery from this manufacturing problem will result in late delivery of the prototype motor to the test facility” but “sufficient margin exists in the test program to accommodate” recovering from the issue “without impacting delivery of the shipboard motor” to the first ship, Captain Thurraya Kent, a Navy spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.

Lucy Ryan, a General Dynamics spokeswoman, referred inquiries about the overheating motor to the Navy.

Wittman said he planned to meet with the head of the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion division Admiral James Caldwell and some of the contractors to ask “why did this happen?”

Trillion-Dollar Modernization

The Columbia-class submarine will replace the aging Ohio class. It’s part of a trillion-dollar program to modernize the U.S.’s sea-air-land nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years, including maintenance and support. President-elect Donald Trump has said “the United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The new submarine class ranks among the Pentagon’s most expensive programs. The projected $126 billion acquisition cost, an estimate that includes expected inflation, is third behind the $379 billion F-35 aircraft and the $153 billion ballistic-missile defense network.

The Congressional Research Service said in a report on the submarine that its schedule “currently includes little or no slack between now and 2031 for absorbing delays” due to funding shortfalls, or “problems in developing and testing new technologies intended for the Columbia class, such as its electric-drive propulsion system.”

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