Virginia Class: When does hull coating separation endanger the boat?

by Craig Hooper on September 6, 2010

UPDATE: Interested news media can contact Craig Hooper at

After the Pentagon’s top weapons tester at DOT&E released a scathing report on the Virginia Class sub’s tendency to shed it’s sound-dampening hull coating, Alan Baribeau, the Naval Sea Systems Command’s talking head for the Virginia Class program office, told Inside the Navy (sorry, no direct link) this for a July 26 story:

Hull coating separations have not caused any fail-to-sail events so far, the program office adds.

“The debonding issue has been aggressively pursued since its recognition in 2006,” the statement reads. “The problem was largely due to immature application processes, which have been corrected on later ships. Because of the parallel construction process, [the hull treatment] was applied to several ships before the first at-sea testing of Virginia. The program office continues to monitor the performance of all ships and pursue improvement.”

Well…the Virginia Class office had best be monitoring performance–because it looks like every single Virginia Class sub is suffering from this ugly tendency to shed their hull treatment…. And, well, um, maybe I shouldn’t ask, but, ah, when does hull treatment debonding become an acoustic/ship survivability issue? When does it become a fail-to-sail issue? Because this looks rather bad:

And, no it is not a tile-shedding Soviet Sub from the closing days of the Cold War…It is the multi-billion dollar Virginia Class submarine USS Texas (SSN 775) returning to Pearl Harbor Hickam on Aug 23 after a 4 month deployment to the 4th Fleet–one of it’s first.

And the next photo is of the USS Virginia (SSN 774) leaving Submarine Base New London…on August 30—looking awful:

And the last photo is USS Hawaii (SSN 776), arriving in Japan on September 3. She left Pearl Harbor just 9 days ago–and the surface treatment is already ripping away:

What will USS Hawaii look like in six months? And what will her acoustic signature sound like?

Maybe the Virginia-class office can ask the Chinese for some help in, ah, monitoring this under-reported fiasco-in-the-making.

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Pete November 10, 2013 at 7:50 pm

I think you worry too much…really you do. The anechoic coating serves several purposes only one of which is noise reduction. Yes the boats, notice boats…not ‘subs’, look a little bit like they have some teeth missing but the noise reduction tiling is also on the inside of the pressure hull. In my day these were called de-coupling tiles. They were designed to break up discrete narrow band tonals and scatter them in all directions. This reduction of the dB level of the tonal and scattering made the boat harder to detect and localise.
Still with me?
The acoustic tiles on the outer hull are mainly for reducing active sonar transmissions. They do not ‘defeat sonar’. Many of these Tom Clancyesq terms are common among people who don’t have a clue what it is they are talking about.
If you really do want to know what it is you’re spouting off about then pop along to your recruiting office and sign on for the submarine service. Of course when you do that you won’t be able to actually write anything about that you actually do. Indeed, you’ll be living it and maybe beginning to understand the contempt the serving and ex-submariners the world over have for blogging heroes!


AviationOrdnance4Life March 30, 2020 at 1:17 pm

Ok well im a Naval veteran with 9 deployments. Spend 90% of that time on the USS Carl Vinson CVN-70 and if that piece of shit popped up out of the water to protect my Flag Vessel id quickly push it back under to hide the embarrassment. Tax payers pay for this shit. It should look presentable. Maybe you “sub” boys are just used to looking scraggly and unsquared away…like your “boats”. Get your shit to gether subsurface community.


exSubmariner September 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm

This in incredulous. I stationed was on two boats which had this type of coating (called SHT, special hull treatment) back in the ’80s. I was specially-trained to maintain and repair the tiles on one of those boats… I NEVER saw an entire tile come off… start to come a bit loose on occasion, and they nicked and cut sometimes, yes, but never had one fall off.


Blacktail September 9, 2010 at 4:38 pm

Looking at those hulls, the first thing that comes to mind are the rusting hulks of ex-Soviet submarines in Russia. The bitter irony, though, is that their hulls are STILL smoother than the Virginia’s, even though they’re in bad shape;


Polaris September 7, 2010 at 10:37 am

I was at Barrow in the UK for 15 years (late 70’s to early 90’s) and we could never get it right. I don’t think a Swiftsure or a Trafalgar ever came back from patrol with the tiles intact. Sometimes they’d be missing 20-30%. Most of my uncle’s carreer until he retired was sticking the things on.


Moose September 6, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Did I say it wasn’t a concern? Far more extensive testing should have been done on the adhesive and decoupling compounds when the decision was made to go with this new mold coating method. But it’s not going to prevent them from sailing.

By the time it was detected, far later than it should have been, the first 3 boats were already in the water. Lets see how boats coated in 2008 and later fare.


Craig Hooper September 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

We invest two billion plus in a quiet boat and then the surface debonds to make the thing nice and noisy? Isn’t that something of a concern?


Moose September 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm

With the pump-jet, large pieces are less of a problem to propulsion than they would be to a conventional screw. The problems come down to flow noise (flapping or banging pieces specifically) and protection against active sonar.


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